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Cats, Gators set for Sprint Center tilt

By Joel Jellison

The last two times Kansas State played a ranked team, it couldn’t put together two solid halves of basketball.

So it should go as no surprise that playing a solid 40 minutes is a focus as the team gets set to play No. 8 Florida on Saturday night at 7 at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

K-State (8-2) coach Bruce Weber said it will be no easy task to knock off the Gators.

“They’re good, they’re a really balanced team, they come at you with defense,” Weber said. “Michigan had some real good individuals, Gonzaga did, but I think this overall might be a better team because they have so many weapons.”

The Gators (8-1) are off to a good start this season, with their only loss coming at Arizona on Dec. 15. Florida has offensive weapons in Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Patric Young, all who average more than 10 points per contest.

But where the Gators really hurt teams is defensively, holding six of their nine opponents to less than 50 points.

“They don’t let you get into a rhythm,” Weber said. “Arizona just kept coming at them, that’s the reason they won. Florida led almost the whole game, but Arizona wouldn’t back off.”

That seems to be the key for the Wildcats this weekend, who are playing an opponent that Weber sees as a potential Final Four team.

Junior guard Will Spradling said winning a game like this would help the team get closer to its pre-conference goal.

“Our goal is to be a Top 25 team by the time conference play started,” he said. “I know winning this game would get us closer to that goal, I don’t know if it would put us up there, but it would kind of have us on that ridge.”

A win over Florida would also help the Wildcats boost their early-season resume, which to this point doesn’t have that signature or sexy win.

Beyond that, Weber said it could help the team boost its confidence before it opens conference play on Jan. 5 against Oklahoma State.

“I think they’re an elite team and that’s a key,” he said. “You get a win like this and it’s great for RPI, it’s great for confidence and it makes Christmas a whole lot better to live with.”

The second half is where things have gone awry for the Wildcats against ranked teams. K-State trailed Michigan 29-24 in the NIT Tip-Off final, and went on to lose 71-57. Against Gonzaga last weekend, it was a 27-26 halftime lead for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga went on to win 68-52.

“We’ve got to try to play 40 minutes,” Weber said. “We’ve been able to compete with top teams for 20. That’s something we’ve talked about.”

Sophomore forward said it all comes down to playing with intensity in the second half. Weber said it seems as if his team has focused too much on its offense in the second half of each game.

Once the struggles started, it quickly spiraled out of control.

“I think the thing we’ve got to emphasize is we can’t let offense dictate our mental state,” Weber said. “I’d love to hit eight 3s in a row, that would be a nice Christmas gift, but as of right now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. You’ve got to do it with what you do well.”

The Wildcats expect to have Nino Williams available for Saturday’s game, after the sophomore forward missed the Texas Southern game due to an injury sustained against Gonzaga.

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