It took a little while for Mariah White to get going this season, and though winning has been difficult for Kansas State, Brittany Chambers doesn’t want to imagine where the Wildcats would be without White in the second half of the season.
White has averaged more than 11 points a game for the Wildcats in the last 11 games — including a career-high 25 points scored at Iowa State earlier this month. During one six-game stretch, the senior reached double figures five times.
That’s saying something for the Midwest City, Okla., native because her four-year career average is just 4.5 points a game, including a career-best 7.5 points per game her junior season.
“In the past, she’s been a player other teams can sag off of because she wouldn’t shoot, but now we don’t really have that at all,” said Chambers, who leads the Wildcats with 20 points per game. “Not only do we have more players who are looking to score, but when you have Mariah becoming a more consistent scorer, you have to respect that.”
White got off to a slow start this year after serving a suspension in the month of November for violations of program rules, missing five games. Once back, though, it took the 5-foot-8 point guard some time to shake the rust, averaging just four points a game with slightly inflated turnover numbers through her first 11 games.
“My confidence is up now and things are starting to come together for me,” said White, who will celebrate senior day with Chambers this Saturday afternoon against Texas Tech at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats’ team leader in assists and steals the past three seasons, White hasn’t needed to be a major scorer. But this year has been very different. K-State, which has lost four straight and eight of its last nine games, has been plagued with injuries, putting more scoring responsibility on the shoulders of those who remain.
“The scoring is fun, but I just like to take whatever is coming to me,” White said. “I’m not upset with two points, or even zero, as long as I can do something to help my team win games. I’d take eight assists and zero points or eight rebounds and no points. Winning makes me happy.”
Five different Wildcats are out with season-ending injuries and another left the program at semester, leaving K-State with just seven healthy bodies since Jan. 23. It’s because of those injuries K-State has also been vertically challenged in every Big 12 game this season. The Wildcats (13-15, 4-12) have just three players taller than 5-8 and nobody 6-0 tall, requiring everyone to play out of position this season — including White.
Regarded as the best true defender the last couple seasons, White has made her mark shutting down opponents on the perimeter. But as of late, she’s been called on to help defend the post, along with Chantay Caron, Heidi Brown and Bri Craig.
“I marvel that Mariah White is in there guarding 6-7 and 6-4 and Chantay is sometimes guarding three different posts,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “Bri Craig is in there. Heidi Brown is in there. They’re really faced with a tremendous challenge, even in that the matchups are constantly changing.
“It’s just not easy. As soon as you begin to get a little bit of a feel of what might be coming next, all of a sudden Chantay and Mariah have someone completely new they’re trying to defend. It’s hard to be consistent and hard to predict and a lot our defense is predicated on those concepts. I think our basketball IQs are growing and expanding, but without question these guys are just working their tails off down there.”
Chambers said White’s offensive game as grown since her move to the paint.
“She’s been in the post lately, which is a new position for her, but its helping her and us a lot because no post can guard her off the dribble,” Chambers said. “Now she’s looking at the basket and she’s shooting 3s. They have to respect her shot. It’s getting us more open shots because they have to pay more attention to her.”
White credited her teammates for creating more scoring opportunities.
“Things are opening up for me now because of them,” she said. “They’re playing tight on Brittany, Haley (Texada) and Bri and that’s allowing me to get going more offensively.”
Against Iowa State in Ames, it was the Chambers and White show, though. The two seniors combined to score 59 points in the 87-71 loss to the Cyclones. White was 8 of 13 from the field and 3 for 5 from behind the arc with six rebounds. Chambers had 34 points on 10-of-21 shooting and a team-high 12 rebounds.
“We just played pick-and-roll and gave each other the ball,” Chambers said of that game. “If I scored, it was because she gave me the ball. If she scored, it was because I gave her the ball. Unfortunately, our team is very young, so we have to do what we can sometimes to get things going, especially on the road in this league.”
That’s just another night for Chamber these days, but for White, it showed maturity in her game as she’s become more assertive. She actually leads the Wildcats in 3-pointer percentage this season, knocking down 49 percent (17 for 35) of her shots behind the arc.
White said she’s become a more assertive player offensively because she feels the pressure of the season winding down and the Wildcats’ hopes of making the postseason becoming more daunting.
“I think for me and Brittany both, the pressure is there because we know we can’t make mistakes out there,” she said. “Because we have so many young players, we have to do the right thing so they can learn from us. We don’t want to set a bad example and that means we have to show it and say it.
“We just need to get better everyday, no matter what we’re doing — games, practice, anytime. If we can do that, we’ll begin to chip away at games and get some wins.”