The Kansas State women’s basketball team has more size than its had in many years with the addition of three new freshmen posts this season, yet the Wildcats have still struggled to generate much consistency in the paint.
(Kansas State senior forward Ashlynn Knoll puts up a shot against Tennessee State on Nov. 8 at Bramlage Coliseum).
Freshman center Bre Lewis got the first chance to nail the post down, starting nine of the first 10 games, but has come off the bench the last three contests, playing a combined eight minutes. The 6-foot-5 Milwaukee native was only averaging four points and 4.7 rebounds in 17 minutes a game as a starter.
With Lewis now on the bench, the Wildcats (6-7, 0-2 Big 12) have turned to senior forward Ashlynn Knoll to the stop the bleeding inside.
Knoll, though just 5-11, gives K-State a more physical presence in the post — a valuable commodity now that the Wildcats are in Big 12 play. K-State returns to action Wednesday looking to end a two-game skid when it hosts No. 15 Oklahoma State at 7 p.m.
“She’s bringing us that consistency,” K-State assistant coach Shalee Lehning said Monday. “Right now, we have a really young roster and a lot of things that we’ve been needing to see from our posts. We’ve been talking to our posts about stepping up and bring consistency and that’s what Ashlynn has done for us.”
Knoll, who has battled back this season from a torn ACL last year, helped prompt the lineup change when she made 7 of 12 shots and finished with a career-high 14 points and six rebounds in the Wildcats’ loss to North Carolina State on Dec. 28.
“I got an opportunity during Christmas break and I’ve tried to make the most of it,” said Knoll, who came to K-State after two seasons at Seward County Community College. “Now, I’m working hard to stay there.”
In her three games as a starter, the Canyon, Texas, native has averaged a little more than four points a game, making 6 of 16 from the field in all. Though modest offensive numbers, Knoll’s biggest asset could be her strength as a defender, able to hold her own physically against some of the league’s bigger posts.
“You can’t coach height and I definitely don’t have it like some of the other girls do,” she said, “but everybody has their shining moments, and for me it’s really being physical and strong enough to handle the posts. I try to push them out to where they can’t get closer to the basket.”
Lehning believes Knoll will turn out to be a valuable asset offensively, as well, able to extend opponents’ defenses with her ability to shoot from long range.
“Ashlynn has shown that she’s a scoring threat and that’s been great having that out there with our guards,” she said. “She can shoot the 3, extend defense, but she can also get in and score inside. She’s really proven that coming back from that knee injury that she’s a lot more confident and wants to be a senior leader.”
K-State has just started to see exactly what Knoll can offer this team, especially with veteran forward Chantay Caron battling nagging knee injuries most of the season and unable to play big minutes any longer. Knoll saw action in 17 games last season — including a pair of starts — before suffering her season-ending knee injury. She averaged four points and two rebounds a game, scoring 10 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Charlotte.
Like any newcomer, though, there are growing pains to the Division-I level, even coming from junior college where Knoll averaged 12.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game for the Saints. But any growth she had made during the nonconference last season was put on hold when Knoll was hurt prior to the Wildcats’ game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 21.
“It’s been a real process for her,” Lehning said. “Everybody comes back from an ACL injury a little differently. For her, she was trying to adapt from junior college basketball to the Big 12 and it’s very different.
“The physicality and the pace and the tempo was an adjustment, and then she got injured and had to fight back. It was a real process and she’s making big strides.”
Knoll said the injury was an eye-opener for her, realizing that her window to play college basketball was quickly closing.
“Being injured, it was my junior year and it made me realize just how much I am going to miss basketball,” said Knoll, who scored eight points in her first game this season against Tennessee State.
“This being my last year, I just know every second… this is just one game closer to never having this again. The injury reminded me how much harder I need to be working — this is my last opportunity.”