The young, undersized Kansas State women’s basketball team opened the season Thursday night with a gritty 68-57 exhibition win over the Fort Hays State at Bramlage Coliseum.
Despite a shaky first half that saw Fort Hays lead for more than 10 minutes and keep the game close in the first half, the young Wildcats were able to pull through on the back of three veterans who scored in double figures.
Sophomore Ashia Woods led K-State with a game-high 19 points, while senior guard Brittany Chambers had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Junior forward Chantay Caron added 14 points.
“I think this was an important game experience and victory for us,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “I think we have to learn how to win, we have to learn how to compete. We have to learn everything, quite frankly.
“We have such a completely new group, and we’re having to play so differently and deal with a lot of unique challenges.”
With point guards Mariah White and Haley Texada on restrictions by K-State for a violation of athletic department policy, K-State was forced to adjust its starting lineup for the opener.
Chambers was the lone returning starter on the court for the Wildcats, as she was joined by Caron, Woods, junior Ashlynn Knoll and freshman guard Brianna Craig.
The biggest challenge for the Wildcats Thursday night was defending the Tigers’ 6-foot-4 sophomore center Kate Lehman, who finished with a double-double on 17 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Caron — the Wildcats’ biggest player at 5-11 — was the primary defender against Lehman.
“We’re going to be seeing that every game,” said Caron, who was 5-of-7 from the field in 28 minutes. “So, having it the first game out is really nice, so we can work on our team defense together. That was pretty good for us.”
Patterson knows facing taller opponents will be a challenge all season, but said Caron got off to a good start Thursday in her new post role.
“She’s going to be undersized all year long,” Patterson said. “And it’s Caron’s physical play that is going to assist us, and she did a great job of that.”
Chambers was just happy to get the first game over with. It’s a been a different start to the year for the senior, who inherits a young supporting cast and is adjusting to a new system more geared for the athletic, shorter Wildcats.
“The first game, everyone’s anxious to get on the court and get going,” said Chambers, who was 5-of-17 from the field. “I felt like our team held our composure really well tonight, we didn’t start off as fast as maybe we would have wanted — being down most of the first half — but we held our composure, we didn’t panic and that’s good to see.”
Though it was just an exhibition game, it was key for Woods to start fast this season in her expanded role, as well.
The sophomore from Wichita didn’t disappoint, as she made 7-of-15 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds and came away with three steals.
“Ashia has really great instincts defensively,” Patterson said. “She impacts the game in a lot of different ways with her length, but also with her instincts.
“Ashia is very, very adapt and has a great basketball IQ as a defender. I think that makes things better for not just the play she’s involved in, but around her.
While it was the three returners making an impact for K-State, new players were just trying to their first action as Wildcats.
Craig — from Lincoln, Neb. — opened her career with eight points and five rebounds in 37 minutes.
Knoll, a transfer from Seward County, netted four points with six rebounds with a team-high three blocks.
“I think they did a nice job,” Patterson said about K-State’s new players. “I think we’ll continue to establish chemistry, to understand a little bit more of each others strengths.
“But there’s literally so much that we are learning just about system. It’s a lot right now.”
K-State was 39.1 percent from the field and struggled behind the arc, making just 3-of-18 with 3s from Woods, Caron and Craig.
K-State will return to Bramlage for its second exhibition game on Monday at 7 p.m. against Washburn in Bramlage Coliseum.
“It feels good to get that first game under our belt,” Patterson said. “I thought we did enough things well tonight that I walk away from this game and I’m proud of what our team brought to the floor.”