The Kansas State women’s basketball team has won three of its last five games and a big reason why — literally — has been the improved play of 6-foot-5 freshman post Bre Lewis.
Lewis has found out there’s far more involved in playing post at the college level than just being the biggest one on the court most nights. The adjustment to the rigors of the tough Big 12 hasn’t been easy for the Milwaukee native. Lewis now knows that surviving nonconference play is one thing and surviving Big 12 play is something entirely different.
(Kansas State freshman Bre Lewis looks to score over Oklahoma’s Nicole Griffin on Wednesday night at Bramlage Coliseum).
“I was very frustrated early because I struggled to do a lot, couldn’t score, get into the rhythm,” Lewis said Thursday. “I’ve just been trying to practice harder and get myself together.
“It all got more intense with Big 12 play. It was more of everything — intensity, more running, more rebounding and more physicality. Very different for me.”
The Big 12 is very unforgiving for young posts. Nearly every team has a superstar hogging the paint. If they aren’t powerful, they’re smooth, athletic and long — sometimes a combination of everything.
“Just because I’m a freshman doesn’t mean I can’t play with them,” said Lewis, who became the first freshman under coach Deb Patterson to block a shot in seven straight games to begin her career. “I try to play with the same intensity and physicality of the other posts because I know they aren’t going to have any mercy on me just because I’m a freshman.”
But early on, just staying on the court was difficult for the young Wildcat, as she fouled out of three games and was limited in a handful of others because of foul trouble.
Lewis’ minutes disappeared when conference play began, scoring just seven points in only 14 combined minutes in K-State’s first three games against Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Everything was a struggle.
“It’s like a whole other world,” Patterson said. “It would be like if you plopped me in China next week and asked me to speak the language. That’s what it feels like for these players who haven’t had significant, fast, big-time experience as they transition to the college level.
“With Lew, she had never played fast, had never played in a game where she couldn’t just catch, maybe jog up the floor in about 12 seconds… The physicality, the speed, getting pushed, learning how to catch, learning offense, passing angles, sealing, you name it, the experienced defenders put more problems on your plate that you can’t tip the plate to get them off, before they’re back on it.”
It wasn’t overnight, but Lewis began to turn her season around a few weeks ago with the Wildcats’ first Big 12 win of the season.
Lewis was 3 for 4 from the field, finishing with six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes in K-State’s win at Texas Tech. She followed that with eight points and five rebounds in the Wildcats’ upset victory against Iowa State on Jan. 18.
Though it was a loss, Lewis continued her season uptick with a 14-point, eight-rebound night at Baylor, followed by a six-point, three-rebound game this past weekend against Kansas. Lewis then contributed eight points and four rebounds in the Wildcats’ 86-78 win over Oklahoma on Wednesday night.
K-State (9-11, 3-6 Big 12) is hoping for more of the same this Saturday night when it travels to Ames, Iowa, to face struggling Iowa State. The Cyclones (15-5, 4-5) have only one win since their loss in Manhattan, losing five of their last six games overall, including three at Hilton Coliseum.
“I think she’s made up her mind to be tougher mentally,” Patterson said. “I don’t think she is even remotely touching what she’ll ultimately be, but for a freshman, these last three weeks have been really big for her — the last four conference games. You look at her first five games, versus her last four and you’ll see a real distinction.”
Lewis said the game is finally beginning to slow down. Instead of appearing to be in panic mode when she gets the ball in the post, Lewis has looked more deliberate, in control and aware.
“I’ve been working with the other posts on developing my moves and taking my time, settling in, instead of rushing everything,” said Lewis, who is averaging 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds a game this season, while leading the team with 31 blocked shots. “That’s helped me a lot. I know now that I don’t need to hurry and that I can gather myself first and try to make a play.”
Patterson said Lewis’ improvement started with a newfound confidence in what she’s doing now. She’s getting it, more and more everyday.
“Her confidence is growing, her understanding, she’s more focused and concentrates harder and longer at practices and is less intimidated, stops on fewer plays,” she said. “All those things have contributed to her success.
“She’s more comfortable on the catch because she’s anticipating what’s coming now and the game isn’t like a tornado going on around her — she’s keeping it simpler.”