Wildcats host defending champs A&M

By Brady Bauman

On a Wednesday night last season the Kansas State women’s basketball team accomplished something that was even more amplified a few weeks after it happened.

The Wildcats hosted the then-No. 5 ranked Texas A&M Aggies March 2nd and were without their biggest inside threat, then-junior Jalana Childs, who was injured in the first minute of play.

Still, K-State won against the eventual NCAA national champions 71-67, and the program’s tournament resume’ was immediately boosted and later in the big dance.

The Aggies only lost to two other teams last year — No. 1 Baylor twice and No. 5 Duke on the road.

K-State beat the best in the land.

On another Wednesday night, the Wildcats will face Texas A&M again, but this time, things are a bit different.

It’s Jan. 4, it’s the start of Big 12 play, it’s the final year the Aggies are in the Big 12 and Texas A&M will very likely have last year’s loss on its mind.

“To me, the only thing you can look back on that game and say is that they weren’t ready for us and they will be this time,” K-State head coach Deb Patterson said following Monday’s practice. “We were ready for them, and I hope we are this time.”

The Wildcats head into Big 12 play with a 9-3 record and are coming off a 57-56 win at Marist on Thursday.

K-State will take on the No. 9 Aggies at 5:30 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum.

Childs, who has been healthy all season and is nearly tied with Brittany Chambers for the club scoring lead with 15.2 points per game, said she is looking forward to taking on the Aggies for the first time since limited-action as a sophomore in 2010.

“This is a good, competitive team we are about to face Wednesday… it’s going to feel like we’re in the tournament playing them for the first game (of conference play),” the senior said. “I feel like I haven’t played them in two years. Last year I got hurt… it’s been awhile since I’ve been on the floor against Texas A&M, so we’ll see.

“It will be a physical game and they will be a challenge to the league — not just us. It will be a physical game. We’ll be bruised up, and bodies will be banging everywhere. We’ll have to be mentally prepared.”

Patterson believes the non-conference schedule, now in the books, has KSU ready for the undertaking.

“I know it’s made us tougher, mentally, and to understand what it takes to be successful,” she said. “We’ve been in tight games, we’ve been in hostile environments and we’ve played against a variety of systems. So, there’s nothing we can look back and say, ‘Gosh, I wish we could have done this or done that.’

“Now, it’s about figuring out who we are and can be, as we prepare for the marathon that is the Big 12. You can’t live or die on early games… you have to be prepared to get hit upside the head really hard at any given segment of the game or any given segment of the season. I think we were picked preseason 9-out-of-10 and there is a reason for that. We’ve got to prove that we are capable of lining up and playing quality basketball. I hope that the nonconference has prepared us for the wide range of styles we will see and the environments.”

Texas A&M is on a three-game win streak following a 81-51 loss at Connecticut during the first week of December.

Since then, the Aggies have wins against TCU, USC and McNeese State, most recently.

Texas A&M has a majority of last year’s national championship roster intact, with Tanisha Smith and Kelsey Bone being exceptions.

“They’re going to come here ready for revenge,” junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “Any team from the Big 12, if you lose to them, will come back ready to win — even if it’s us that are coming back from a loss, we’ll do the same.”

Chambers said toughness has grown over the nonconference season, and that it will serve them in Big 12 play.

“We’ve gotten tougher as a team — mentally especially,” she said. “Marist was a situation where we were in a hostile environment and we came back and maintained our heads and pulled out a win in a packed house. That’s something I’m not sure we could have done earlier in the season.

“Being on the road the last couple weeks has taught us that we have to be tough mentally, and now, coming into Big 12 — yes we’re home — but it’s a whole new level and a whole new challenge. So, I’m hoping we can bring that toughness that we’ve shown on the road.”

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