Weber is glad to be back in St. Louis with K-State

News-DemocratMarch 21, 2014 

— Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said his long history and familiarity with St. Louis gives his team no advantage heading into the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't think we have any advantage being here other than I knew what restaurants to go to in town,'' said Weber, whose ninth-seeded Wildcats will play the eighth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats at 8:40 p.m. Friday at Scottrade Center in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Weber is 12-9 all-time in St. Louis, including 11-8 mark at Scottrade Center.

That mark includes his stints as the coach at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (1998-2003) playing in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and at Illinois (2003-12) playing in the annual Bragging Rights game against Missouri and the NCAA Final Four in 2005.

"I have great memories of St. Louis from the Valley Tournament and even going back to Purdue in '98 in the Sweet 16 here,'' Weber said. "That was my last season as an assistant at Purdue after a long tenure there, and then the Final Four at the (Edward Jones) Dome.''

After being fired by Illinois after the 2011-12 season, Weber landed on his feet at K-State.

"We had a great run (at Illinois), we had a great run at SIU,'' Weber said. "Obviously, you don't want it to end like it did. Circumstances happen, and our business is a business.

"It's now a basketball business, and it comes down to winning and producing like your (athletic director) and president want you to produce. We're just very, very fortunate to be at K-State. I didn't know after the ending at Illinois what would happen, but a nice door opened up for myself and my family.''

He guided K-State to a 27-8 record and the Big 12 Conference championship last season, earning him Big 12 Coach of the Year honors.

K-State had a short run in NCAA Tournament last year, losing to La Salle 63-61 in their first game.

Weber's squad started out the season slowly, losing three of its first six games.

"We didn't have our big guy, Thomas Gibson, early and we just don't have the size or depth with our big guys,'' Weber said. "And, then our freshmen had a lot to learn. Our freshman have been good for us. They may not be some of the name freshman in our league, they've surprised a lot of people.''

K-State has two freshmen, Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu, in its starting lineup. Kentucky has five freshman starters.

K-State is 0-8 all-time against Kentucky. The two schools last met in 2008 at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Kentucky has a major edge in size over K-State as all six starters go 6-foot-6 or taller, including 7-foot center Dakari Johnson.

K-State's front line goes 6-7, 6-7 and 6-5.

"We've faced big teams in our league with Kansas a couple of times, Texas has the big bodies and length, Gonzaga in nonconference,'' Weber said. "We've been able to survive it. It's tough. The big thing for us is that we have to be a rebounding team tomorrow. The guards have to have rebounds. I think that will be a big stat.''

K-State has two St. Louis natives in 6-foot-5 junior forward Nino Williams, who was born in the Gateway City but attended high school in Leavenworth, Kan., and 6-foot-9 sophomore forward D.J. Johnson, a graduate of Parkway North High School.

"To have those guys come back home is a real positive thing,'' Weber said. "Hopefully, they play well. That would be a big thing for our big guys to play well.''

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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