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Freshman guard Romero dazzles in Wildcat debut

By Joshua Kinder

Deb Patterson wanted to see more offense this season.

If Monday night was any indicator, the Kansas State women’s basketball coach might have had her wish granted.

Of course, finding more offense is a lot easier when you have more than seven healthy players, and some with considerable size.

Dipping all the way down the bench Monday, Patterson used 11 players — including five freshmen newcomers — to dispose of Washburn 85-64 in the Wildcats’ exhibition opener at Bramlage Coliseum.

“It feels great to look at a roster like this and feel like everybody here can find a way to positively impact our offense,” Patterson said.

Nine different players scored for K-State, led by Spanish import Leti Romero, who posted a double-double in her Wildcat debut with 25 points and 12 rebounds. The freshman point guard was 7 of 10 from the floor and 10 for 11 at the free-throw line, while dishing four assists and coming away with four steals in 26 minutes.

“I thought she stepped up and I liked the balance when you look at that stat line, because you’re getting some from the floor, at the free-throw line, and then she rebounded well,” Patterson said of Romero. “That’s encouraging and good stuff to build off of… It’s never easy to put those kinds of numbers on the board, but she’s capable. It was a great debut.”

The Wildcats got 66 points from players who either weren’t on last season’s team or were injured a year ago and didn’t play, including 31 points off the bench. In fact, the newcomers combined to score the Wildcats’ first 14 points, including seven from Romero, who buried K-State’s first 3-pointer of the night.

“The thing that was most encouraging to me is that I thought we looked like a team that knew how to create shot opportunities,” Patterson said. “That’s what I had really hoped for. I wanted to see our spacing, I wanted to see us share the ball and feel as though we had some sort of continuity, even though we’re very young, and that players would stay aggressive.”

Former Riley County standout Kelly Thomson, who missed last season with a torn ACL, made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. Freshman forward Erica Young had 10 points, while 6-foot-5 freshman center Breanna Lewis had six points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks. Junior guard Haley Texada led K-State’s returners with 15 points.

“We knew that offensively is where we had to grow the most,” Patterson said. “It was going to require young players step up and make plays and those who had been in the gym to find a way to hold them together and teach them.

“I think early on we’ve had some real solid leadership, people teaching these young ones how we like to do things, what the work ethic and tempo is, what the day-to-day needs to be like and how we like to execute.”

K-State, which shot 43 percent from the field and outrebounded Washburn 45-32, led 40-28 at halftime. Washburn made it close a few times in the first half, even tying the game at 21 on a 3-pointer from Casyn Buckman with 6:57 remaining in the opening period.

K-State answered, led by Lewis, who made baskets on consecutive trips into the paint — the first on a baby hook over two defenders to break the tie and then with an easy layup at the rim. Bri Craig then pushed the Wildcats in front 27-21 on a steal at midcourt and layup on the other end. Thomson capped the 9-0 surge with her first 3-pointer of the game.

Washburn trimmed the K-State lead to just eight points with 14:56 to play in the game on three-point play from Honor Duvall, who finished with a team-high 16 points.

But as was the case in the first half, K-State had an answer. This time it was Romero, who scored seven points on an 11-2 run give K-State all the separation it needed to cruise to the victory — highlighted by a pair of steals and fast-break layups.

Romero made plays for the Wildcats all night. In one instance in the first half, with the clock winding down and nobody wanting to take a shot, it was Romero who found a way to score, taking the ball from the top of the key and driving into the paint to beat defenders to the rim for an easy layup.

“I was nervous and I’m really happy,” Romero said. “It was just a game. I’ve been learning from all of the experienced players that we have here. I will work hard for every game. There will be more games like this, and as a team we will be good.”

The Wildcats will close out their exhibition slate this Friday when they host Alaska-Anchorage at 5:45 p.m., with the men’s exhibition against Pittsburg State to follow at 8 p.m.

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