Wildcats credit solid defense for early success

By Joshua Kinder

If there’s one thing Kansas State women’s basketball coach Deb Patterson knows about her team as the Big 12 season nears, it’s that her Wildcats can play defense.

K-State, which plays at Marist Thursday night in its final nonconference tune-up before welcoming Texas A&M to Manhattan next week, is among the nation’s leaders defensively.

Offensively, however, the Wildcats are struggling, as points are coming at a premium so far this season.

Nine times this season K-State has held its opponents to 50 or less points with the Wildcats winning seven of those contests.

“Defense has been our strength this year,” junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “We pride ourselves on holding teams and making them frustrated. We get into the passing lanes and use our athleticism to disrupt teams.”

The Wildcats are second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally in scoring defense, holding teams to 49.2 points per game. K-State (8-3) is fourth in the Big 12 and ninth nationally in field goal defense, as the Wildcats have clamped down and limited the opposition to just 31.2 percent from the field.

“I don’t know what it is,” senior forward Jalana Childs said. “There isn’t anything special about us. We don’t have a 6-5 post player. Brandy (Brown) and I are the 6-5 post players, and we’re 6-2. I don’t know if it’s that other teams underestimate us and don’t think we’ll defend. But that’s our foundation. That’s what we have to do to win games.”

A year ago, the Wildcats were among the Big 12’s best defensively. But Patterson believes this season’s team is better on the defensive end and just maybe the best she’s had on that side of the floor in four years.

“To this point, we’ve established that we’re real good defensively,” she said. “It reminds me of that 2008 basketball team when we had (Kimberly) Dietz, (Shalee) Lehning, Marlies (Gipson) and Danielle (Zanotti) — they defended extremely well. And we haven’t seen that since then.”

The Wildcats, who are coming off a 2-1 showing in the BTI Invitational in Las Vegas, are 8-3 this season because of the defense. Yet, one of their best defensive performances didn’t yield a victory, as K-State lost to a ranked Purdue team 46-42 in overtime during the Cancun Challenge in November.

“Right now, this is a team I have a great deal of confidence in, defensively,” Patterson said. “But we still have to prove it when we see different systems and different players. But when we locked down on Purdue, that was very impressive defensively.”

Chambers credited the improvement defensively to having another year of experience mixed in with a couple new faces that have added a rare element of athleticism the Wildcats haven’t had in some time.

“We are more athletic as a team and between the four people who have been here a long time, it’s just another year, another year of playing together and another year of practice — not making as many stupid mistakes as we used to as younger players,” said Chambers, who is averaging a team-best 15.6 points per game.

“And the newer players like Tasha (Dickey) and Ashia (Woods) bring so much athleticism with length and speed, things you can’t always coach.”

Dickey, a 5-foot-10 senior who transferred to K-State from Arizona, is ninth in the Big 12 steals, averaging better than two thefts a game for the Wildcats. Woods, a 5-11 freshman whose playing time has increased significantly in the past month off the bench, provides the Wildcats with a potent combination of speed and length at the guard position that they didn’t have a year ago.

“Their length is a big benefit for us,” said Childs, who is averaging 14.6 points a game. “Those two get their arms in passing lanes, prevent passes and get steals and that’s huge. We didn’t really have that last year.”

While Patterson acknowledges the added depth, the long-time Wildcats coach said the defense prowess starts with senior forward Branshea Brown in the middle.

“She’s 50 percent of the reason why we we’re successful defensively,” she said. “She covers ground, she’s our power rebounder and she’s the one that gets the blocked shot when we need it. She defends, sometimes, two or three different people in a given possession. Without Brandy, there really is no success for us defensively.”

And though being strong defensively will benefit the Wildcats in Big 12 play, K-State is still a work-in-progress on the offensive end. The Wildcats are last in the league in just about every offensive category, even ranking 197th in scoring offense at 60 points per game and last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 38 percent from the field.

“We have to work on our offense,” Childs said. “It’s coming together, but there’s still so much we need to get better at. We can still be so much better. We’re still learning to play with each other, I think.

“I don’t think its consistency. I think it’s about being in the right spot on the floor, running our plays right and running our plays hard, taking good shots.”

The Wildcats tip-off with Marist (5-5) on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Poughkeepsie, NY and then return home to open the Big 12 with the No. 10/9 Aggies on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

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