Bruce Weber has his first signature victory as Kansas State's coach, though he hardly seems relieved given his team's offensive struggles.
The 25th-ranked Wildcats have two more home games in three days to help them improve prior to the Big 12 schedule, including Saturday night's contest against Missouri-Kansas City.
Kansas State (9-2) is coming off a 67-61 victory over then-No. 8 Florida last Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., after failing in its two previous attempts to beat ranked foes. The Wildcats lost 71-57 to then-No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 23 and 68-52 to then-No. 14 Gonzaga on Dec. 15.
"Coach gave us a great motivational speech before the game. We let each other down the past couple times that we have played against Top 25 teams, so we did not want to have another meltdown like that," leading scorer Rodney McGruder said. "So we challenged one another to go out there and compete for 40 minutes."
McGruder went 1 for 9 from the field and had a season-worst four points against Gonzaga, but he's averaging 19.5 points over the last two games. The senior guard scored a season-best 26 in a 78-69 victory over Texas Southern on Dec. 18.
"We know that we can compete with the best and beat them," McGruder said. "This win is a great confidence builder."
Weber, though, also said that victory won't mean much if the Wildcats don't build on it. They shot only 41.7 percent and have finished below the 40-percent mark five times this season.
He believes there's room for improvement before Kansas State begins conference play Jan. 5 against No. 22 Oklahoma State.
"We have been really on them in practice to compete everyday and that is the only way that you can get better," Weber said. "We are starting to see a little bit of light, but there is a long way to go. This is one win."
With a new coach usually comes a different system, and Weber said guard Will Spradling seems to be adjusting the best.
"He has a great feel of what we want," Weber said.
The junior scored a season-high 17 points while adding six rebounds and five assists against Florida, saying it's "probably my best all-around performance I've ever had."
Before hosting another Summit League opponent in South Dakota on Monday, Kansas State will face a UMKC team that is 0-16 all-time against Top 25 opponents. The Kangaroos (4-8) fell 91-45 to then-No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 23 and 99-47 to then-No. 5 Louisville on Dec. 8.
They have dropped four straight after losing 66-65 to Southeast Missouri State last Saturday. Though the Kangaroos committed a season-low eight turnovers, they shot 34.9 percent and are hitting only 41.7 percent of their shots on the season.
Kansas State is holding opponents to 39.2 percent from the field while allowing 57.7 points per game.
Leading scorer Estan Tyler went 2 of 11 from the field and had eight points, but he finished with a career-best nine assists.
Kansas State has won all nine home meetings and 15 of 16 overall against UMKC, including an 80-64 victory in the most recent matchup Dec. 23, 2010.
The Kangaroos' only win in the series was 93-52 at home Dec. 30, 2003 - their last victory over a major-conference opponent.
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