Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wildcats leaning on freshman Craig

Any other year, perhaps a freshman like Bri Craig would have been brought along at a slightly slower pace.

But for the Kansas State women’s basketball team, her talents are needed now,

K-State head coach Deb Patterson said the niece of former NFL great Roger Craig is up to the task.

Craig is currently third on the team in scoring, averaging nearly 10 points a game with 30 3-pointers — second only to senior Brittany Chambers with 39.

For a team that has little size and no major scoring threat inside, Craig’s contributions have proven extremely valuable for the Wildcats.

“We put a lot of heat on her day in and day out at practice,” Patterson said after K-State’s 66-52 loss against West Virginia at home on Saturday. “There are some days you wouldn’t want to be Bri Craig.

“But, it’s because I just believe, and our staff believes, that she has tremendous potential.”

Craig netted 12 points against the Mountaineers — all off 3-pointers.

The 2012 Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year comes from a celebrated athletic family. Craig’s uncle was a running back for three Super Bowl-winning San Francisco 49ers teams, led by quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice. Her parents were both athletes at Nebraska — her father, Curtis, a football player and her mother, Terri, a basketball player.

And while Craig may come from impressive genes, she’s quickly making her name here at K-State. The young Craig scored 18 points in the Wildcats’ loss at Texas Tech last Wednesday. Before that she scored 14 in K-State’s win at home over TCU.

Patterson has been happy with Craig’s production so far, comparing her to a very decorated former Wildcat.

“The performances that we are seeing out of her in Big 12 play are very, very impressive,” Patterson said. “I talked to somebody today about the fact that Bri Craig reminds me, potentially, of Kimberly Dietz. And Dietz is one of the three best guards I’ve ever coached here at Kansas State. And here we have little ol’ Bri Craig out there, trying to be a mini-me of Dietz in her freshman year.

“Dietz, in her freshman year, averaged just five minutes a game. So, we’re putting a whole lot on Brianna Craig.”

After the West Virginia game, Craig said the transition from high school to Big 12 hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s a transition she is obviously making.

“It’s definitely taken me a while to get more comfortable,” she said. “But, I think the game is coming more easily now because I’m getting in the flow of things and just taking whatever the game is giving me.

“I just feel more confident.”

Chambers, the Wildcats’ leading scorer at more than 18 points per game, said the offense Craig provides helps open up other players, including herself.

“She puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Chambers said. “We have been doing really well driving baseline in a couple of these games, and when you have a player out there ready for the ball and making shots, it provides either the open lane for players like me, Mariah (White) or Haley (Texada), or if the defense wants to sink in, it’s easy shots for her to make.

“It’s huge for her, stepping up like that.”

Patterson said this Wildcats team, which has lost two straight games, needs Craig.

“We have to have Bri Craig contributing in order to have a prayer,” she said. “Right now, when you look at our roster, you ask, ‘Where are you going to get your offensive contribution… where are you going to get some production?’

“Bri Craig is critical in that, and that’s what I really like, how she’s stepped up in Big 12 play and how she’s growing. She’s working extremely hard to bring that production to the floor.”

Patterson said it’s often difficult for young players to become so assertive so early in their careers. That hasn’t been the case for Craig.

“It’s so easy for freshman, sometimes, to just wait in the shadows and hang around and not, necessarily want to make mistakes,” Patterson said. “It’s nice to be able to put her in a position on the floor, and be able to say to the team, ‘this is going to be effective because they are going to have to guard Bri,’ — that’s a real compliment to her at this stage in her career.”

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