MANHATTAN — As they fight their way through some early growing pains, Bruce Weber would like his Kansas State Wildcats to think bigger.

Specifically, he wants more out of his veteran big men.

"They've got to play stronger and they've got to finish," he said Tuesday as the Wildcats prepare to face Saint Louis at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. "They've got to make some baskets."

Veterans Makol Mawien and Levi Stockard have been inconsistent in the post, and it hasn't helped that freshman Montavious Murphy missed the last seven games with an injury.

Then there's James Love and Nigel Shadd, who have combined for two minutes with injuries of their own.

The one bright spot has been the emergence of 6-foot-9 freshman Antonio Gordon, who took Murphy's place in the starting lineup and has continued to progress.

"You hope in the long run it's going to help Antonio because he's been forced to do some things," Weber said of the injuries and inconsistency that led Gordon to play 28, 30 and 27 minutes in the last three games and collect a total of 25 rebounds. "He gets nine rebounds the other night against a high-level team (and) he's guarding (Mississippi State's) Reggie Perry, one of the best players in the country, and does a pretty good job.

"But should he be in there 30 minutes? That's the question. That's where Montavious is probably going to help us a little bit and maybe that could make a difference. We'll see."

Murphy, who averaged 4.7 rebounds and played solid defense in his three games, has practiced this week and should be back for the Saint Louis game, according to Weber. Gordon, meanwhile, has averaged 6.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in his expanded role.

"I've played a lot more," Gordon said. "It has helped me a lot. I've seen a drastic change from the beginning of the season to where I am right now, but (Murphy) coming in will still be good for us."

While Gordon has battled consistency issues on offense — he had three points against Marquette, 13 with three 3-pointers against Alabama State and five against Mississippi State in the last three games — he clearly has trended upward in other areas.

"The biggest strides would definitely be my defense," said Gordon, from Lawton, Okla. "In high school, I just played straight offense. I didn't have to play defense.

"But I came here and I've definitely seen a big change in my defense and also rebounding. At the beginning of the season I was like two rebounds, three rebounds, and the last three games, eight, eight, nine, so I think if I crash the glass it will help the team a lot."

Weber has especially been pleased with Gordon's effort.

"Antonio plays his butt off," Weber said. "The more minutes you play, the more your weaknesses show up, too. So that's what I'm trying to get (through) to him.

"Make a commitment. To get nine rebounds in a high-level game, like that? Now grab the ball (and) secure it — don't travel, don't dribble."

Gordon said that Weber has been quite specific in what he needs from the big men.

"He wants us to be better at finishing around the rim, guarding down," Gordon said. "Definitely rebounding, because we've got a big challenge this week.

"Just like last week, we had a big challenge with Perry and the other big. So he's been challenging us to rebound, box out (and) finish at the rim."

The Wildcats (6-4) faltered down the stretch in their 67-61 loss to Mississippi State and have dropped four of their last six games. Weber is looking for a spark, especially from the big men.

Mawien is averaging 8.2 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds, but his performances have been uneven. Stockard is contributing 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds a game.

"I hope a light switches on," Weber said.