MANHATTAN — In Cartier Diarra's eyes, life as a Kansas State basketball starter and a reserve is a 50-50 proposition.

Perhaps that's because when he comes off the bench for the Wildcats on Saturday at Oklahoma State, it literally will be.

Because of injuries to seniors Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade over the past two seasons, Diarra has been pressed into starting duty and played enough in his career that it really doesn't matter.

"I don't think it's been any adjustment," said Diarra, a sophomore point guard who has 29 starts in 57 career games. "I feel like I've come to each and every game the same way.

"I really feel like it's just dependent on me being aggressive. It doesn't matter if I start or come off the bench; it's just what I do in those minutes that I play."

A year ago, he stepped in for Stokes at point guard and started the last 22 games, averaging 7.1 points and two assists. He has not quite matched that consistency this year on offense with 5.7 points, but at 6-foot-4, he has been a more reliable rebounder at 3.4 a game.

Now that both Stokes and Wade appear to be over the foot injuries that plagued them earlier in the season, Diarra has had to wait to assert himself, though he still ranks fifth on the team in minutes with 25.2 per game.

And he still can impact a game for the Wildcats, as evidenced by last Saturday's 65-53 loss at Texas A&M, where he came off the bench to tie a season-high with 14 points on a day when K-State struggled mightily on offense.

"Cartier coming off the bench, he's like another starter, basically," said Stokes, who leads the Wildcats with 3.5 assists per game. "He just comes in and basically piggybacks off what we were doing in the game.

"His job is to keep that same energy going, and that's the job of everyone else who comes in the game."

K-State coach Bruce Weber agreed the Wildcats need Diarra to be a consistent contributor.

"It's always harder to come off the bench, but when you look at his minutes, he's pretty close to starter's minutes," Weber said. "When he's played well, he's 29 to 30.

"I think he's watching film now, becoming more of a student of the game. If you don't watch yourself, you don't know what you're always doing."

Diarra said he sees his role as that of a facilitator.

"I'm still a point guard and we have a lot of guards on the team, too, but we also have really skilled bigs," he said. "So it's just finding those players and knowing what your teammates like to do and their favorite spots on the court and making sure everybody eats.

"And at the end of the day, win the game."

The disappointing loss at A&M notwithstanding, the Wildcats head to Stillwater, Okla., for a 5 p.m. Saturday game at Gallagher-Iba Arena with a 15-5 overall record and tied with Baylor for the Big 12 lead at 5-2.

Diarra admitted that coming off the bench, he might need to be more aware of his team's specific needs, depending on the flow of the game.

"Honestly, I don't think of that, but I feel like I should more," he said. "Simply because you get to watch and see what is needed when you come into the game.

"I'm going to do that more."

That, according to Weber, is a sign of maturity.

"When you're on the bench, if you're a student of the game, you're watching to see what the other team's doing, how I can exploit things," Weber said. "I think he realizes that, whether you start or you're coming off the bench, you've got to be prepared to take advantage of that extra four minutes at the start of the game to figure some things out."