With a new system, only two starters back, a bunch of new young faces and very little size, there was no doubt winning would become a more difficult for the Kansas State women’s basketball team this season.
On Sunday things became even tougher for the Wildcats, who lost do-it-all guard Brittany Chambers with a right ankle injury before losing the game.
The senior went down just four minutes into the game when she tried to save a long pass from Bri Craig from going out of bounds on the baseline. Chambers, who leads the Wildcats in scoring, rebounds and assists, was helped to the locker room and never returned.
“At this point, all I know is that Brittany wasn’t good enough to go today, which for a player like Brittany means her injury was significant because I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her miss a game, ever,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said.
Nevertheless, even after losing Chambers, the Wildcats continued to lead the Miners — until the final 26 seconds.
K-State controlled the entire game, but watched an 11-point lead midway through the second half slip away in the closing seconds when UTEP’s Chrishauna Parker buried two straight 3-pointers to key a 13-2 run and win the game 52-50.
Two Miners players posted double-doubles — Kayla Thornton’s game-high 15 points and 14 rebounds and Chrishauna Parker’s 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“It’s a great win for UTEP to come in here and beat us on our floor and we don’t take kindly to that kind of thing happening here at Kansas State,” Patterson said. “We’re extremely disappointed and I know we’ll learn a great deal from it.”
UTEP (9-1) pulled within two on a layup and missed the ensuing free throw, but Anete Steinberga grabbed the rebound and put it back up to tie the game at 50 with 1:01 to play.
K-State (7-1) had a chance to answer, but a 3-point attempt from Haley Texada missed and the Miners took the lead when they converted on the second of two free throws on the other end with 26 seconds to play.
Again, the Wildcats had a chance to respond, but another 3-pointer from Craig was off target. UTEP then went up 52-50 on another free throw with 11 seconds remaining.
But for the third straight possession, K-State had no answer, as Texada dribbled across the line, appeared to look to the bench for a timeout, but then kept the ball and ultimately turned it over at the free throw line on a pass.
“We originally were trying to get the ball up the court as fast as we could, but I think we got it up a little bit faster than we expected,” said Texada, who finished with 12 points off the bench. “I tried to go out of the flow with that and I didn’t see the court as well as I should of and I caused a turnover.”
K-State, which shot just 29 percent for the game, led 25-21 at halftime. But down the stretch, Patterson felt her team didn’t play with the kind of urgency it needed to win the game, especially with Chambers not on the floor.
“I felt we were just content to play the game in the second half,” Patterson said. “I never felt in the second half the sense of urgency to compete every possession extremely hard for the purpose of winning, or else you could lose. Part of that is the leadership and verbal quotient we get with Brittany.
“I felt like we were playing a little bit with fire. UTEP beat us in the work phases of the game and that separated us down the stretch.”
The Wildcats, who also got 12 points from Craig, were outrebounded 47-38 and turned the ball over 17 times. But perhaps the most alarming part of K-State’s performance was the reliance on the deep ball with no ability to get to the free throw line. The Wildcats were just 9-of-36 from behind the arc and 3-of-8 at the line. UTEP made 16-of-26 from the stripe.
“You can handle those 3 numbers if you feel like you’re being aggressive and balancing the scales a little bit, but tonight we were so passive in getting to the line,” Patterson said. “Our shot attempts in the paint were so tentative and slow. Early in the game we overpassed it a little bit and then we missed some easy layups from our perimeters, and then our posts missed some easy looks.
“There’s times when the game is giving you 3s and you’re feeling like they’re good decisions, but our decisions in the last eight minutes of the game were just very questionable.”
The Wildcats will now hit the road for the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas. K-State opens the tournament against former Big 12 foe Texas A&M on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. and then will play either Notre Dame or Alabama A&M on Thursday. K-State won’t return home again until Jan. 5 when it hosts TCU at 6 p.m.