KANSAS CITY, Mo. — By now, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber has learned how to play the cards he's dealt.
He just wishes somebody would stop shuffling the deck.
Senior forward Dean Wade remained doubtful for today's 1:30 p.m. Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal against TCU, staying behind at the team hotel for treatment on his right foot while the top-seeded Wildcats went through a late-afternoon practice session Wednesday at the Sprint Center.
Sixth man Cartier Diarra, on the other hand, hopes to return in some capacity after missing eight games with a fractured finger. And so it goes.
"I think the main thing is we've been through it," Weber said, reflecting on last year's postseason run, which took place largely without an injured Wade. "I don't want to say we don't flinch, but it's much easier because we went through it last year and we've been through it this year."
When the 6-foot-10 Wade initially suffered a partially torn tendon in the foot in December, forcing him to miss six games, it was Diarra who stepped in. But even if he's ready to go — and he insisted Wednesday that he would give it a try — it won't be in a starting role.
That honor will fall either to 6-7 junior forward Austin Trice or sophomore 6-2 guard Mike McGuirl.
"I think it depends who we play and the matchups, whether we go big with Austin or go smaller with Mike," Weber said. "Not Carti.
"Carti will play and I don't want to say it's 100 percent, but I know he wants to play and we'll probably give him a shot and see how it goes."
At the time, the Wildcats (24-7) were waiting for the first-round game between No. 8 seed TCU and No. 9 Oklahoma State to see who they would face in the quarterfinal. With a taller TCU team (20-12) holding off OSU, 73-70, Trice might be the best bet, though McGuirl has more experience.
"At the end of the day, we know that whoever plays, they're going to have to bring their all and do what they can to help the team win," said McGuirl, who seemingly came out of nowhere last year to play a key role in the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight. "Regardless of who steps on that court, we know we've got constants — we've got to always play defense, we've got to always rebound, we've got to always execute on offense."
Diarra, who started much of last season when point guard Kamau Stokes went down with a foot injury, was the next man up this year as the first Wildcat off the bench. He was playing his best basketball with four straight double-figure scoring games when a fractured finger on his left (shooting) hand took him out before the Feb. 12 game at Texas.
Now he's eager to get back to work.
"I'm looking forward to putting it to the test tomorrow," Diarra said.
Diarra said he resumed shooting about a week ago and has been able to handle the ball adequately despite taping his middle finger and injured ring finger together for stability.
As for the need to step in immediately to fill the void of Wade's absence, Diarra brushed it off.
"I feel like there's not a lot of pressure," he said. "I feel like I'll just go out there and play my game. My teammates have shown that they're capable of playing really well without me."
With Wade out of the lineup, the biggest adjustments defensively fall on 6-9 junior post Makol Mawien, who could operate as the lone big man, and 6-5 wing Xavier Sneed. In the past, Sneed has moved from the small forward to power forward.
"Mak might have to guard more of the four (power forward)," Weber said. "And if you play Austin, Austin's probably a little better at guarding the five man than the four, but we definitely need (Mawien) hooked up.
"(Sneed) is the unsung hero because he guards so many different people. He's guarded the point guard and he's guarded (power forwards)."
The Wildcats should be well set with four of their stalwarts, all-conference guard Barry Brown, fellow senior Stokes, Sneed and Mawien. But further complicating matters is Stokes' recent bout with migraine headaches, the most recent of which landed him in the hospital following last Saturday's Oklahoma game.
"The migraine's a little tough. I had one today," Stokes said after Wednesday practice. "A small one, but it's getting better."
’Cats not satisfied
Through it all, the Wildcats are determined not to use injuries as a crutch in the Big 12 Tournament, nor to let it diminish their resolve.
"For us it's a must. It's our next mission," Stokes said. "We won the conference (regular season) like we wanted to and now it's the Big 12 Tournament, that's the next one.
"We don't want to play it safe. We want to compete for a Big 12 championship."
Weber is a little more cautious.
"I want Dean in there. Dean makes me a lot better coach," Weber said. "I want Kam there, I want Cartier there (because) when those guys all play … I think we're an elite team.
"But if not, we've showed in the past and even this year that we can still compete."