Missouri might want to guard Mariah White the next time the Tigers play Kansas State.
White took full advantage of Missouri’s sagging perimeter defense and made the Tigers pay with a career-high 23 points and eight assists, leading the Wildcats to their third straight win in the Big 12 with a decisive 72-46 victory Wednesday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
The junior point guard made 9-of-11 from the field, including 5-of-7 from behind the arc, as K-State shot out to a commanding first-half lead and never looked back to win its fourth straight game overall.
“Tonight, I think that Mariah had a great feel for the game,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “She was completely unguarded and I think that she understands and has grown to have a great deal of confidence that the light is green and she can step up and finish plays. Tonight was perfect evidence of that.
“It takes a great deal of pressure off of our team, and quite frankly, it has made us all a better basketball team. She has evolved from nonconference in making those kinds of decisions into conference play.”
Brittany Chambers also finished in double figures with 14 points and a team-high six rebounds. JuliAnne Chisholm added 10 points off the bench with a couple of 3s.
But it was a struggle offensively for Jalana Childs and Branshea Brown in the post, as the two seniors combined for just 10 points and four rebounds — making White’s career night even more important for the Wildcats, who found scoring from a player who is averaging 5.1 points per game this season and was 0-11 from behind the arc until Wednesday.
“Tonight was a prime example of where they had a game plan to double Jalana low and guard me tight,” said Chambers, who was 5-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-7 on 3-pointers. “They left Mariah open and she punished them. I think without Mariah punishing them, it would have been a much different game tonight.”
White’s previous career high was 17 points against St. John’s last season. Wednesday’s breakout performance was the Midwest City, Okla., native’s fourth double-figure scoring game this season, a week removed from netting 12 points in the Wildcats’ overtime win against Texas A&M.
“I feel great, and like Coach Patterson said I was surprised that I got those wide-open shots,” said White, who’s made only four 3-pointers in the previous two seasons combined. “Thanks to my teammates because they kept finding me when they would double Brandy down low, she would find me on the opposite wing. I get those same shots in practice, so it just carried over tonight into the game.”
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said she “rolled the dice” in letting White free for so many open looks and it clearly backfired, as the Tigers fell to 10-4 and 0-3 in the Big 12.
“Kansas State is so good and Childs and Chambers are tremendous players — they get a lot of focus and attention, so you have to roll the dice and play the odds,” she said. “(White) stepped up and hit some big shots for them. Obviously, we were not counting on her scoring (23) points.”
But White’s big game was only part of the story for K-State (12-3, 3-0 Big 12), as the Wildcats used lockdown defense on the Tigers’ and Big 12’s second-leading scorer Christine Flores, making the 6-foot-3 post a non-factor from the start.
Flores, who entered the game averaging better than 20 points per game, finished with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting — scoring just six in the first half — as K-State was in total control with a 37-24 halftime lead.
“As the game wore on, it became more critical that we limit her touches because the baskets she made and the baskets they went into the half were all in the paint,” Patterson said. “She is just a handful because she is unrelenting and she has a good feel on how to bury people down low. She stays active enough early in their offense to get touches down low and it was big that instead of being at 22 or 18 touches, she ends up 5-for-11.”
K-State, which shot 42 percent from the field and turned the ball over only seven times, jumped on Missouri fast, taking a 9-2 lead to start. The Wildcats pushed their lead out to 17-6 after back-to-back 3-pointers from White and Chambers with 13:43 to play in the half.
Missouri, which shot 36 percent and had 18 turnovers, made a small run at K-State to cut the deficit to five, but the Tigers would never get closer. The Wildcats answered with eight straight points from White — including a pair of 3s — to regain control and run away with the game before halftime.
Pingeton said Flores’ offensive struggles stemmed from the Tigers’ poor play on the outside.
“I think until we start to knock down our perimeter shots we will run into that,” she said. “We ran into that last year a lot — teams packed it in on us and it made it hard on our inside players… Every chance that they got, they just packed it in.
“We have to have kids that can consistently knock down shots on the perimeter. That is what we are struggling with right now. Until we are knocking down those shots, it is going to be really tough to get that defense to extend.”
K-State returns to action on Saturday when the Wildcats travel to Lubbock, Texas to face No. 10 Texas Tech at 2 p.m. The next home contest for K-State will be Tuesday when it hosts Oklahoma at 7 p.m.