Deb Patterson is just trying to focus on today and then move on to tomorrow.
It’s really just one step at a time for the Kansas State women’s basketball coach, as she prepares her team for another big-time test this Saturday at home against No. 13 Iowa State.
The Big 12 season hasn’t been kind to the Wildcats so far. With just one win to its credit — Tuesday night at Texas Tech — K-State (7-9 1-4 Big 12) is stuck near the bottom of the league with rival Kansas. Only Texas Tech is worse right now, still searching for that first conference win of the season.
“When you’re in this league and you’re 0-3 or whatever you are at some point in the season — it doesn’t matter — it’s really about the next day,” Patterson said. “You have to leave behind the emotions that don’t drive you forward.”
It’s a safe bet nobody expected K-State to contend for a Big 12 title this season, but there were and continue to be high expectations for this team not only this year, but in in the coming years.
The Wildcats are young, really young with six freshmen this season, including leading scorer, guard Leti Romero, who leads the Wildcats in points (13.9), rebounds (5.9) and assists (4.6) per game.
And while K-State has the size it needed last year, all three new forwards — Bre Lewis, Erica Young and Jessica Sheble — have all gone through their fair share of growing pains in their adjustment to big-time college basketball.
And if there’s one thing Patterson knows, it’s that the tough Big 12 is very unforgiving when you’re trying to teach and coach up young talent in a win-now world.
“I’ve told the kids, the more you invest, the more it hurts,” Patterson said. “Everyone wants to succeed. So, it’s where you put your next focus. And for us, the focus needs to be on getting better. You can’t feel sorry for yourself in this league. You can’t get the blues. You have to be that person who wakes up the next day, happy for the opportunity to lace up with another game to play or another practice with your teammates to work to get better.
“If you have the strength to do that, if gives you a chance through the rigors of this league. You never stop working to get better. That’s what Big 12 basketball is all about. Somebody is going to finish in first, somebody is going to be last, and along that journey, its testing yourself, making sure you never let up or give in.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Wildcats, though. Despite their record, there have been moments, or glimpses of improvement along the way, both individually and as a team. The future does look bright, especially with Romero as a centerpiece for years to come. But junior guard Ashia Woods has emerged as a legitimate force both offensively and defensively as well, averaging 11.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals a game, less than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon.
“As coaches, it’s a really fun team to coach, as long as you see them fighting to get better,” Patterson said. “It’s the days when you don’t see them fighting that its challenging. I think it’s clicking in, and I think Ashia Woods is playing as well as anybody in the league. We have people in the gym that we can feed off of now.
“I do think we’ll make more shots and we’re understanding the work ethic and so while it’s challenging, its also very rewarding to see improvements.”
If the Wildcats make more shots, they’ll likely need them to come from junior guard Haley Texada and sophomore guard Bri Craig, who have struggled to get going this season. The top two returning scorers off last season’s team, Texada and Craig are only averaging a combined 12.5 points a game this year. If they get going, K-State might just be able to surprise some teams down the stretch.
“We’ve shown signs that are really exciting,” Patterson said. “We’ve seen some halves when we played really great. We saw a great victory against Virginia, a great half against Hampton. We saw, in a game where I don’t think we played particularly well, against Texas, all kinds of encouraging things in the midst of the all the dark clouds.
“With this young team, its about teaching them resiliency, teaching them toughness, accountability, believing in the next day, that desire to keep getting better, as opposed to feeling sorry or getting the blues.”