MANHATTAN — In a season filled with ups and downs — mostly downs of late — Bruce Weber has increasingly turned to his younger players in search of a spark and perhaps with an eye toward the future.
No Wildcat has provided more hope for what lies ahead than freshman forward Montavious Murphy, who outside of a stretch where he missed seven games with injury, has been a fixture in the starting lineup.
"He's been better than I ever thought," Weber said of Murphy, a 6-foot-9, 215-pounder from Spring, Texas. "For the most part he's been consistent. He's been rock solid."
Weber often has emphasized that he values consistency perhaps above anything else, and that is something that has been sorely lacking for the Wildcats during their current six-game losing streak. They take a 9-17 record, 2-11 in the Big 12, into Saturday's 1 p.m. home game against Texas (15-11, 5-8) at Bramlage Coliseum.
Murphy has not been among the Wildcats' scoring leaders, tied with guard David Sloan for sixth on the team with 5.2 points a game, and his 3.7 rebounding average ranks fifth. But he has been reliable.
"You always want a little more. Could you get a little more out of him, and we'd like it," Weber said. "Maybe it's going to be next year, I don't know. A little more confidence, all that stuff.
"Could he get a deflection and take a gamble on steal or close out a little harder, go offensive rebound? Yeah, there's a lot of things he could do, but I think overall he's been pretty consistent for us, as much as anybody on our team."
Murphy looked puzzled earlier this week when he was asked about the freshman wall, the idea that newcomers wear down over the length of their first college season.
"I don't believe in that," he said. "Just from my mindset, I'm just going to go out there and compete.
"So freshman wall, whatever it is, I don't know. I just go out there and compete."
Not that it has all been a walk in the park.
"It's tough," he said. "We're dealing with little injuries and that type of stuff.
"We're just trying to fight through that and just feel like us young guys, it's like (we) just have to have that (motivation) to just want to go out there and compete and not let anybody down."
The Wildcats have gotten solid contributions from all three of their freshmen at times. Guard DaJuan Gordon has started several games recently and forward Antonio Gordon scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds Wednesday night in a 69-62 loss at Texas Tech.
But Murphy clearly has been the most consistent.
"I'm very excited for his future," Sloan, a junior college transfer who has also played a bigger role for the Wildcats in the second half of the season, said of Murphy. "He's getting better every day. He's definitely developing his jump shots where people have to guard him out on the wing, and then he can put the ball on the floor, obviously.
"When we played West Virginia here, there were times where I just ran up the court and let him bring it up, so he has the all-around game."
Murphy said his goal going forward is to become more of a force around the basket.
"I'm getting more physical," he said. "(Against TCU), I did a post move. I feel like my body is getting bigger. Right now I'm just ready to go out there and compete."
"I hope that (his improvement is) in the paint," Weber said. "I think he came in where he just wanted to pick and pop and step and shoot the three.
"His first basket of the TCU game was a post move and he's only done that a couple of times all year. But if you really think about Dean (Wade), he did not want the paint (as a freshman). Then obviously you get stronger, you get more confident and you develop some game."
Weber said he has seen signs of hitting the freshman wall from all his rookies at various times. But they also have proven to be resilient.
"(Murphy) came in a couple of weeks ago a whipped puppy, I can tell you that," Weber said. "But then he's bounced back. That's a good thing.
"I thought he came back and played with good energy the other day."