SAN JOSE, Calif. — For the last eight games of the regular season, Cartier Diarra sat on the Kansas State bench, a broken finger on his left hand heavily wrapped and not entirely sure what was in store.
It gave him a fresh perspective and even greater respect for senior teammate Dean Wade, whose foot injury could keep him from playing another game in a Wildcat uniform.
"He's amazing," Diarra said of Wade's demeanor since suffering from the recurrence of an injury to his right foot that kept him out of action for six games in December and January. "He's always up, clapping, energy, very supportive.
"Doing whatever he can, talking to us in the huddle and letting us know what he sees. We're on the court, but he has that coach's-eye view, which I had when I was hurt."
The postseason hasn't been kind to Wade, who missed last year's NCAA Elite Eight run with the exception of an eight-minute cameo appearance in the Wildcats' Sweet 16 upset victory over Kentucky.
Even so, Diarra said, Wade is aware as a senior leader that his body language alone can affect the rest of the team. The No. 18-ranked Wildcats (25-8), No. 4 seed in the NCAA South Regional, face No. 13 seed UC Irvine at 1 p.m. Friday at the SAP Center.
"Him being sad — he has every right to be — but him being sad, I feel like would bring that energy and everyone else would be sad and the mentality's different," Diarra said. "That was the same way, and I noticed that when I was hurt, why be sad for yourself when you've got 14 other guys still playing their butts off, trying to win something special.
"And you're a part of that, regardless of whether you're playing or not. It's being positive and encouraging and just being a great teammate and helping any way you can."
That's especially true with a player of Dean's stature — two-time all-Big 12 player, second on the team in scoring at 12.9 points a game and first in rebounding with a 6.2 average.
"It does a lot, just that clap, just telling your teammate, 'You're good,' " Diarra said. "And hearing it from such a great player like him will boost some players' confidence."
Tall or small?
Playing without Wade raises all kinds of challenges for K-State coach Bruce Weber, who likes to run the offense through his versatile forward. Especially against a UC Irvine team that ranks third nationally in total rebounds and ninth in rebounding margin at plus-7.3.
"You go from kind of a legit power forward that can do a lot of things to a small team," said Weber, who typically has inserted the 6-foot-4 Diarra into the lineup in place of 6-10 Wade. "Now tomorrow, because they present problems with their size, we might have to play big at times and use some of our bigger guys off the bench, just kind of deal with them and combat their inside presence."
In their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal last week against a tall TCU team, the Wildcats started 6-7 junior forward Austin Trice in Wade's place, though it was 6-8 sophomore Levi Stockard who came up big with eight points. Diarra, in his first game back from the broken finger, played 29 minutes in that game and was back in the starting lineup for a semifinal loss to Iowa State.
UCI starts 6-foot-10 senior Jonathan Galloway and 6-8 junior Tommy Rutherford in the post, plus bring 6-9 forwards Collin Welp and Elston Jones off the bench.
K-State will be facing UC Irvine for the second straight season after knocking off the Anteaters, 71-49, on Nov. 17, 2017. Both teams return nearly intact.
"From what I can remember, I think we shot the ball pretty well, especially early," K-State senior guard Kamau Stokes said about the previous meeting, which took place in Manhattan as part of the Las Vegas Invitational. "Holding them to 28 percent (shooting) is credit to our defense."
Speaking of Anteaters, K-State's players were asked if they found UC Irvine's mascot intimidating.
"You got that," senior guard Barry Brown said with a smile.