Sunday, November 29, 2015

Craig working to become more versatile

The scouting report on Bri Craig a year ago was probably pretty simple — guard tight on the perimeter and force the freshman to beat you with the 3-pointer.

It didn’t always work. The Kansas State forward finished with a third-best 64 baskets from beyond the arc, behind only Haley Texada and Brittany Chambers. But that was essentially Craig’s game. She camped out on the outside and rarely took the ball into the paint.

Of her 347 attempts on the season, 229 of them came from the outside and she only made it to the free-throw line 23 times all season.

That’s what the 5-foot-10 sophomore intends to change this season. The former Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year wants to show there’s more to her game than just being a spot shooter and get back to being the versatile player she was at Lincoln Northeast High when she averaged more than 18 points and eight rebounds a game.

Craig showcased her athleticism and ability to play physical last year at times — now she just wants to do it more often.

“I know what I want and need to do this year,” Craig said Wednesday during the women’s basketball team’s annual media day. “I want to show that my game is a lot more versatile than just shooting the 3. I want to be able to get to the hole, be more aggressive off the dribble, rebound better and get passes to my open teammates.”

Craig averaged 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds a game a year ago for the Wildcats who finished with 19-18 and made it to the WNIT semifinals, despite only having seven healthy bodies for the final 18 games of the season.

Not uncommon, the second half of Craig’s first season was more of a challenge than the first 20 games. Her production and shooting percentages dropped. She averaged nearly 10 points a game through the first 20 games, reaching double figures 10 times. In the final 16 games, Craig only scored in double figures four times — seven times scoring six or fewer points.

A lot was expected from the freshman early. Not only did Craig earn a starting job almost from Day 1, but by the end of the season — due to the lack of healthy players — she had to play nearly 34 minutes a game.

“I think last year it was really about me getting used to the level of play, the college game,” said Craig, who scored a career-high 18 points at Texas Tech last January. “I knew I could shoot 3s and I think that it was just something I was comfortable doing — knowing I could do it and not sure if I could do the other things. It was really me coming into myself and learning that I really can do those other things and not rely on the 3.”

One thing that’s expected to help Craig make the transition to becoming a more complete player will be K-State’s increased size down low with the addition of three freshmen posts — 6-3 Jessica Sheble, 6-3 Erica Young and 6-5 Breanna Lewis. A year ago, the Wildcats played the second half of the season with nobody taller than 5-11, forcing K-State to fire up a program-record 1,077 3-pointers.

“When you have a post player who can absorb some of that defense in the lane and when there are players in and around the high and low post that you have to defend, we have a forward in Craig who can step up and sometimes shoot the 3 or we can create some drive lanes for her,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “She’s very strong and has good physicality and a good body for that — and it’s gotten even better over the course of the summer.

“I think that has the potential to help Bri with easy assists, good cutting action to the basket — we know she has the instincts. And as a sophomore who played so many minutes as a freshman, it’s easy to think she’s a senior. I think she’s going to enjoy being in the gym with post players who can pass, screen and will occupy the defense.”

Craig said she’s already seen a difference having legitimate posts — it changes nearly everything offensively and opens up the game for everyone else to find easier shots.

“It’ll take a lot of pressure off us on the outside for sure,” she said. “We relied so much on the perimeter game last year that having that presence inside will create more open looks outside and give us chances to score other places, whether its penetrating for layups, getting to the foul line to driving and kicking back out to shooters.”

K-State will open its season with a pair of exhibition games, beginning Oct. 28 against Washburn at 7 p.m. The Wildcats’ final exhibition will be against Alaska-Anchorage on Nov. 1, before opening the regular season at home on Friday, Nov. 8 against Tennessee Tech at 5:45 p.m.


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