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Craig fighting through freshman slump

By Joshua Kinder

Bri Craig says she learns something new everyday.

Such is the life for a freshman learning to handle the rigors of the Big 12 Conference.

The 5-foot-10 guard made a relatively smooth transition to the college game this fall. But now Craig faces the most challenging obstacle she’s experienced so far as she tries to break free from the first considerable shooting slump of her young career.

K-State’s third-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game and second-leading 3-pointer shooter has struggled of late. After burying a pair of 3s to open the Wildcats’ game against Baylor last Wednesday, the Lincoln, Neb., native proceeded to miss her next 12 shots. Then three days later at TCU, Craig was just 1 for 10 from the field. She’s made two of her last 19 from behind the arc.

“I think the last 3 she shot absolutely went in and then came out,” K-State associate head coach Kamie Ethridge said Monday. “At that point, I think she was done for that game — she was so done.”

Hot and cold streaks are common for shooters. K-State senior guard Brittany Chambers understands as much as anyone what Craig is going through, but also knows its something every player has to learn to fight through.

“I remember I’d go into a game with a huge weight on my shoulders,” she said. “I wouldn’t shoot well one game and then I’d feel it and then I wouldn’t shoot well for a second game and then I could really feel the weight on my shoulders. It just builds and builds until you can get back on track.”

But the best way to break out of a cold streak is to keep shooting, even when nothing seems to be going right.

“It’s hard to fight through that,” said Craig, who has just eight total points in the last two games. “I just need to get into the gym and get more shots up and keeping telling myself I can make these shots. And if my shot isn’t falling, I want to find other ways to help my team out.”

That’s the key for Craig because the Wildcats need her scoring, especially Wednesday when K-State hosts No. 12 Oklahoma State (14-2, 3-2) at 7 p.m. K-State needs the player that averaged nearly 15 points through the first three Big 12 games, including a career-high 18 points in a loss at Texas Tech.

In high school, Craig displayed the ability to impact a game numerous ways, whether it was draining 3s or slashing to the basket or coming up with big steals or getting hands on rebounds.

But so far this season, the 2012 Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year has seemed to settle for only the outside shot. It’s the complete player, however, K-State needs Craig to become.

“The easiest thing for her is to stand out there and shoot 3s, so she’s gone to her bread and butter and now she’s being asked to take that next step,” Chambers said. “She’s going to grow with it, like I grew with it, but it takes time.”

Time isn’t on the Wildcats’ side, though. K-State (11-7, 2-4) just snapped a three-game losing skid at TCU, but faces a difficult road going forward in a brutally tough Big 12 — a road the Wildcats would prefer to travel with Craig firing on all cylinders.

Ethridge said to do that, Craig needs to become more assertive, confident and step up to the physicality of the league.

“The problem with shooters is that if they don’t shoot the ball well, they lose confidence,” she said. “What can help them not feel so bad is finding other ways to effect the game — rebounds, go be a great defender, throw the ball to somebody else and get an assist, run the floor, get a deflection.

“That the next phase for Bri.”

Craig knows what she needs to do.

“I think its just about me getting more comfortable and figuring out that I actually can do it in these situations,” she said. “It’s a confidence thing, like, ‘Can I take this girl off the dribble? Am I going to get blocked if I get in there?’ There’s a lot of stuff going on in my mind. I just need to relax.”

Chambers, who too was asked to be a major contributor as a freshman, knows what Craig is capable of — she’s seen her do it in practice.

“Her ability to get to the basket is unbelievable,” Chambers said. “She has that quick first step, but it’s just a toughness thing, afraid of the bigs down there. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to be physical, its that they don’t know how to be physical when they’re that young. They don’t like that kind of contact.”

Ethridge compared Craig to point guard Mariah White, who isn’t a pure shooter, but does all the little things that mean so much in games. The senior always guards the other team’s best player, gets rebounds, assists and comes up with big steals, inside and out. Those are the things Ethridge wants to see from Craig.

“She’s got to become a better defender because she gives up too many easy baskets,” she said. “She’s not as physical, doesn’t want to bump people and sometimes bails out. Again, look at Mariah, she just hits anything that comes near her.

“I think the thing with Bri is that she’s a good player and wants to please, do well, but worries about making a mistake. She needs to get over that.”

Craig has started to make that turn with her work on the glass. In the last three games, she’s averaging six rebounds a game. That’s significant because Craig hadn’t had more than four rebounds in any other game this season, and that was only once. She had a career-high eight rebounds at TCU on Saturday.

Chambers is the role model for rebounding guards in the Big 12, averaging a team-best 7.4 per game, so obviously it can be done. Maybe Chambers has rubbed off on Craig?

“I don’t know if it’s so much me — I think it’s the coaches and the sprints,” Chambers said. “We need her. She’s a big guard, athletic, can jump and has great timing. For her to be getting two or three rebounds a game isn’t good enough. She’s figuring it out now.”

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