Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cats find motivation in loss as they look toward next season

Jalana Childs said Kansas State’s loss to Connecticut on Monday felt yucky.

The yucky feeling wasn’t necessarily because the eighth-seeded Wildcats lost to No. 1-seed UConn in the second round of the NCAA championship. There’s no shame in that.

It was how K-State lost to the Huskies that hurt the most.

The Wildcats, who scored only 10 points in the first half, were blown out in record fashion — losing 72-26 in Bridgeport, Conn., in a game that essentially seemed over by the first timeout.

K-State’s 26 points were the fewest ever scored in an NCAA tournament game.

“We got on our heels and stayed on our heels,” said Childs, who finished as the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. “We never punched back. That really felt awful. It felt bad being out there. We needed a 10-minutes to get our heads together. But you don’t get 10 minutes.”

The problem was the first 15 minutes, in fact, as K-State found itself in a 29-5 hole that only got deeper as the game continued.

“We’ve been in that position before, but couldn’t get out of it,” Childs said. “I don’t know what happened. It’s just an awful, awful feeling. It felt yucky.”

The hardest part for the Wildcats now is that memories of that game will linger for months before they get to return to the court to begin preparations for next season.

The key, Childs said, is for the returning Wildcats to use that game as motivation during the offseason.

“When I think about UConn’s team, I think about their preparation, what they do, and it can’t be that much different than any other school,” she said. “I mean, we have Scott Greenawalt to prepare us. He scares the crap out of the whole world, but it’s all about how you attack it. Your coaches don’t do this for you.

“This can be a great learning experience for this team. You see how hard those freshmen and sophomores work on that UConn team. They could be that same way if they attack those workouts and buy into everything Coach (Deb Patterson) is about.”

That starts this summer.

“It has to, and it starts with yourself,” Childs said. “Your coaches can’t do that for you. You have to find it within yourself, find that passion, find that love for the game, that drive and motivation. It starts with you to get the work done.”

Childs is one of five seniors on this year’s team that the Wildcats will have to learn to do without next season, including Branshea Brown, Tasha Dickey, Emma Ostermann and JuliAnne Chisholm.

“I have learned so much,” Childs said. “It’s been such a great journey for me. K-State is an amazing place to be. Playing a sport has prepared me way more for life than anything else. I know past seniors, and all of us, have said that, but its true. I’ll be ready for the real world because of this experience and these coaches and these amazing people here.”

But without those five — including three starters — K-State loses more than 32 points and 15 rebounds a game. That’s more than half of the Wildcats’ scoring and nearly half of their rebounds.

Coming back will be seniors-to-be Brittany Chambers and Mariah White — the long returning starters. They’ll be joined by a host of Wildcats who served as role players this year, including Chantay Caron, Ashia Woods and Stephanie Wittman.

In many ways, the Wildcats will be a young group next season, as returning freshman guard Haley Texada joins a five-deep recruiting class — including one junior college transfer — who could all contend for immediate playing time on a roster than doesn’t have much game experience. K-State will also have 6-foot-1 junior forward Katya Leick, who transferred from Nebraska and redshirted this season.

Considering that, Chambers knows much of the leadership will fall on her shoulders as the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder at 14 points and five rebounds per game.

“It’s a big step and I need to take it, but those are unbelievable shoes to fill,” Chambers said.  “We’re losing the intangibles, things you can’t coach a kid to have — fight, determination, hard work, tough mentality. They had that. That’s what got us into the tournament. We’re not physically good enough, don’t have the skills to be where we are without those things we got from our seniors.

“We need to figure out next year that we’re missing Jalana, Brandy, Tasha and we have to find different ways to be good. It’s going to be a completely team and we need to find ways to get into the gym and make shots, make shots and make shots.”

The Wildcats already know they’ll be picked to finish toward the bottom of the Big 12. But that’s nothing new for K-State, which was picked ninth this season and yet finished tied for fourth. The Wildcats won at least 20 games for the fourth time in five seasons and at least 19 games for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.

“We worked so hard this year to overcome what everybody said about us before the season started,” Caron said. “We’ve proven everybody wrong two years in a row, made it to the second round of the tournament and did better than we did last year.”

Caron, who has now played in two NCAA tournaments in each of her first two years at K-State, said Monday’s game will be a hard lesson this offseason, but she and her teammates are ready for the challenges ahead.

“It just shows how far we need to go to beat the best next year,” she said. “We’re losing some great seniors, but the people who were here to experience this know how hard they need to work to come back and be in the spot we were in the NCAA tournament.”


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