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Wildcats brace for first road test

Staff Writer
Salina Journal
Kansas State guard Rudi Williams initiates a fast break during Friday night's game against Milwaukee at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had hoped that by the time the Big 12 season rolled around, his Wildcats would be both battle tested and road tested.

COVID-19 put a crimp in those plans, first wiping out an exhibition game and preseason tournament, and then a trip to Indianapolis to face Butler in the Big 12/Big East Battle series.

So when the Wildcats hit the road for Tuesday's conference opener at Iowa State — tipoff is set for 8 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa — Weber isn't sure just what to expect.

"It's a little scary, there's no doubt," said Weber, whose Wildcats take a 2-4 record into conference play. "We had planned to have the exhibition game at Wichita, we thought we were going to have a game at Butler. Those were going to be your road games.

"And the games in the Cayman Islands, we would have had some experience being on the road."

Instead, the Wildcats will leave the comfort of Bramlage Coliseum for the first time with a team that started three freshmen and a sophomore last Friday in a 76-75 victory over Milwaukee. They’ll also without sophomore center Kaosi Ezeagu, who had a procedure on his knee after starting the first four games, and likely sophomore forward Montavious Murphy with an undisclosed medical issue.

On a positive note, K-State's newcomers performed admirably against Milwaukee, with freshmen Davion Bradford (18 points, seven rebounds), Selton Miguel (17 points) and Nijel Pack (12 points, five assists) all scoring in double figures, along with junior college transfer Rudi Wilson (16 points and four 3-pointers).

Senior guard Mike McGuirl, who leads the team with 14.5 points per game, added 11 with eight assists against the Mavericks.

The Wildcats also seemingly picked a good time to face Iowa State (1-2), which has struggled to find its way as well, coming off a 105-77 loss at No. 3-ranked Iowa on Friday. Plus, the Cyclones did not have any fans in the stands for their first two games at Hilton Coliseum — an 80-63 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and 71-68 loss to South Dakota State — minimizing one of the league's top home-court advantages.

"Obviously the road is a little different. I'm not sure if they're having fans or how many fans, (but) I don't think it's quite as much of a factor," Weber said. "I told the coach, don't even bring up the fact that we're going on the road.

"They don't need to think about it anymore. They've got enough things to worry about."

Williams, one of the nation's top juco point guards last year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, is adjusting to a new level of competition as well, but said the Wildcats remain committed to being competitive in the rugged Big 12.

"I feel like we're just going to have to get better day-by-day," said Williams, who made 4 of 5 3-pointers against Milwaukee, while frequently playing alongside freshman point guard Pack. "We're going to have to prep a little harder, scout a little harder, and we're obviously going to have to work harder, because the talent level will be upped a notch in conference play.

"I just feel like it's the little things we're going to have to dial in and make sure we tackle."

Weber was encouraged by the fact that the Wildcats shot 60% in the second half and 54.7% for the game against Milwaukee. But on the flip side, they nearly blew a seven-point lead in the last 45 seconds.

"Obviously we played better offensively the other day," he said. "Now, can we get better defensively in a hurry, because right now we're not very good defensively."

The Wildcats are averaging 65.3 points per game and allowing 73, with opponents shooting 48.6%.

Iowa State, which lost one game because of COVID-19 issues with DePaul, is averaging 75 points and allowing 79.7 on average, though those numbers are skewed by the Iowa blowout.

DePaul graduate transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands, leads the Cyclones with 15.3 points a game, while junior guard Rasir Bolton adds 14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Senior forward Solomon averaged 18.5 points on 76.5% shooting against K-State last year.

"We'll see if they grow up and can deal with playing in the Big 12 very early without a lot of experience, and then trying to play a road game right away," Weber said of his team.

The Wildcats are scheduled to play their conference home opener at 3 p.m. Saturday against Baylor, but the Bears are shut down at the moment with COVID-19 concerns, putting that game in jeopardy.

KANSAS STATE AT IOWA STATE

Tipoff: 8 p.m., Tuesday, Hilton Coliseum (14,356), Ames, Iowa

Records: Kansas State 2-4 (0-0 Big 12), Iowa State 1-2 (0-0).

TV: ESPNU

Next up for K-State: Saturday, 3 p.m. vs. Baylor, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.