By LARRY VAUGHT
Kansas State certainly didn’t do anything Wednesday in Atlanta to add to Kentucky’s intensity going into Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament South Region semifinals.
Buffalo players — and even the head coach — were downright cocky the day before playing Kentucky and the Wildcats made them pay by scoring 95 points in a second round win.
“Obviously we have a challenge. I think Kentucky, Coach Cal, does a better job defensively than people give him credit for,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “Obviously their length causes you problems, and we’re catching them at a — when they’re hot. I think nine out of 10, won the SEC tournament.
“They’ve got good players. They’ve got size. We’ve just got to hope we can — we have got to come out, fight them, grind it out, and hope that somebody can step up and make some shots.”
Kansas State’s Xavier Sneed said Kentucky obviously had “ramped it up” during its last 10 games.
“They don’t want to lose, and at the end of the season nobody does, so I can see that in how they’re fighting. And we have been the same way this season, so I feel like if we come out and we be tougher than them this season, we have a chance,” Sneed said.
Kansas State will apparently get 6-10 Dean Wade, its leading scorer, back Thursday night after he missed the three previous games with a foot injury. Weber said he was “moving a little bit” in practice and did some live stuff to see how he reacted.
“Every day they’ve increased it. He’s got to points now where he doesn’t have pain with the boot on, which is a positive step. Now we’ll see when we did something, how he reacts,” Weber said. “He’s not going to be a 30-minute guy, but we can get like NBA, the minute guy, a couple minutes here, a couple minutes there. Obviously smart, he does a lot of good things for us, it would be a nice boost. I know the guys were excited to have him back and cheering him on today.”
K-State’s Kamau Stokes said whether Dean plays or not, the key for his team will be to move the ball to get open shoots at UK — which has not allowed a team to shoot above 39 percent from the field during its five-game win streak.
“For us to get open, just because of the way they play like on steals and blocks and everything, we’ve got to pick our spots wisely and make the right play,” Stokes said.
Barry Brown Jr. has been Kansas State’s perimeter defensive stopper and will likely be matched against UK freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — the player Sporting News picked as the top player in the NCAA Tournament so far based on his play in UK wins over Davidson and Buffalo.
How does Brown prepare for that assignment?
“Just watch a lot of tape and kind of see where he wants to pick his spots, how he handles pressure. I’ve been watching him a lot, so I kind of know what he likes to do and where he wants to be on offense, and just trying to attack him on defense, as well,” Brown said Wednesday.
Stokes said it’s important for Kansas State not to approach playing Kentucky any different than it did its first two NCAA games — or other games during the season.
“We’ve got to treat it the same way we treat any other game. We can’t go about it any differently,” Stokes said. “We’ve been watching film, looking at things they like to do and how they pick their spots. We’ve just got to make adjustments to that and be really locked in during that game.”