Craig lifts K-State past Gauchos

By Joshua Kinder

Bri Craig only made three shots on Sunday — three big shots — that lifted the Kansas State women’s basketball team past UC Santa Barbara, 73-64, at Bramlage Coliseum.

(Kansas State sophomore Bri Craig makes one of her three 3-pointers against UC Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon at Bramlage Coliseum).

The sophomore buried a trio of 3-pointers off the bench — including two in the second half — to push back three different runs at the lead by the Gauchos. But it was her energy level on defense that really impressed K-State coach Deb Patterson.

“I think she was huge today coming off of the bench,” Patterson said. “The thing I noticed is the defensive intensity level really jumped up today when she was in the game. I think her job of getting in the flow of the game and hitting those big 3s was huge.

“She has an opportunity to get into the game and she elevated her level of play. She was very efficient today and that was very important to our team.”

Craig finished with a season-high 11 points and a steal in 21 minutes. It’s a different role for Craig, who made 34 starts last season as a freshman, averaging 8.3 points a game. This season — including two starts — the Lincoln, Neb., native is averaging just 4.3 points a game, but perhaps Sunday’s game is the one that turns her season around.

“I think that whatever the team needs me to do, I will do that,” Craig said. “If it’s coming off of the bench to hit big shots, then I will do that. Whatever Coach Patterson wants me to do, is what I will do.”

K-State (5-3) led by 12 at halftime, but watched that lead slip some to start the second half when UC Santa Barbara made five of its first seven shots from the field to get within five at 45-40 with 13:42 remaining.

Erica Young then made the second half of two free throws, followed by Craig’s first trey of the second half to push the Wildcats’ lead back out to nine. Craig’s 3-pointer, as well as a three-point play by Chantay Caron, helped key a 9-2 run by K-State to go ahead 54-42 with 10 minutes to play.

But UC Santa Barbara wasn’t finished. The Gauchos used an 8-2 surge — including four points from Onome Jemerigbe — to get within two at 61-59 with 3:15 to go.

And again, Craig came through in the clutch — this time with her third 3-pointer of the game to extend K-State’s lead back to five at 64-59 with 2:49 remaining.

The Gauchos answered on the other end to make it a three-point game, but K-State didn’t let up, as the Wildcats outscored UC Santa Barbara 9-3 in the final 2 minutes to pick up their second straight win.

Ashia Woods fueled K-State’s final push with two steals and four points in the final minute of the game, including a fast-break layup that broke the Gauchos’ back. She finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five steals.

“I knew the game was close and they were battling as hard as we were,” said Woods, who recently returned to the court after tearing an Achilles tendon last January. “It came down to who wanted to hustle more and I just wanted to outhustle them.”

(Kansas State junior Ashia Woods comes away with one of her five steals on Sunday against UC Santa Barbara at Bramlage Coliseum).

Despite being a two-point game in the final few minutes, the Wildcats beat the Gauchos in just about every aspect of the game. K-State — led by Leti Romero’s 15 points — shot 49 percent for the game, outrebounded the Gauchos 38-25, blocked four shots and came away with nine steals. The Wildcats, who play at Hampton on Dec. 21, shot better than 62 percent from the field in the first half. Their only real issue were the 25 turnovers — 16 in the first half alone.

“A lot of turnovers were easily fixable and we have to do better as a team to fix that,” Patterson said. “(UC Santa Barbara) started the second half well and went on a nice run. That’s something we have to address and fix. It was a nice victory, we have to keep building on the positives and today I thought we were consistent across the board.”

Following Saturday’s game at Hampton, the Wildcats head to San Diego to play in the Surf & Slam Classic Dec. 28-30. K-State won’t return home again until Jan. 2 when it opens Big12 play against Baylor at 7 p.m.

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