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Wildcats look to regroup against Texas Tech

By Maria McIlwain

Kansas State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie has been searching for another scorer to complement his already-established scoring threats.

He might have found one in Karyla Middlebrook.

The 5-foot-7 junior point guard has recorded double figures in four of her last six games and scored a career-high 27 points against Oklahoma on Wednesday.

“I think it has been building since the UConn game, it’s just (Wednesday) the ball was going in for me,” Middlebrook said.

Mittie was happy with his team’s comeback against the Sooners in the fourth quarter but not the overall play beforehand.

“We really weren’t playing very well but kept grinding through it, kept grinding through it,” he said. “We got to the fourth and had some opportunities, and then of course, you make that great run at the end, and they make a 3 to tie that thing. Yeah, you know, it is kind of a kick in the gut because you fought so hard to get there.”

That 3-pointer by Gabbi Ortiz sent the game to overtime, where Oklahoma came out on top, 85-80.

“That locker room was as quiet of a locker room as you can go into,” Mittie said. “sIt hurt everybody in there. I was pleased, I think everybody comes out of there, at least from my lens last night on the plane, it was a group that will come in today and prepare like they always do.”

Mittie didn’t like seeing yet another slow start from the Wildcats (11-4, 1-2 Big 12), but he said part of Wednesday’s slow start was because of how hot Oklahoma was out of the gate, hitting five 3-pointers in the first quarter.

“To some extent, we wait for somebody to hit us before we hit them at times,” he said. “Take that in a basketball sense of aggressiveness early, and we just have not done that.”

Middlebrook said the team’s mentality will help them overcome the slow starts.

“When we come in with the right mindset, we’ll have great starts and we’ll be in big games, and we’ll show the Big 12 what we’re capable of,” she said.

But K-State doesn’t have much time to dwell on that. Texas Tech (10-4, 2-1 Big 12) is coming to town on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum.

Three Red Raiders average in double figures headlined by Recee Caldwell. The sophomore UCLA transfer averages 18.4 points per game, while teammates Arella Guirantes and Jada Terry each average 12.4 points per game. As a team, Texas Tech records almost 74 points per game and shoots 40 percent from 3-point range.

Caldwell is a familiar face to Mittie, who recruited the San Antonio native.

“Good player, quality person,” Mittie said. “Gets it, works hard at her craft, and she’s made a huge difference in their team. And they’re putting the ball in her hands a lot, and she’s making plays.”

Middlebrook said patience was her key to breaking out.

“They keep instilling their confidence in me, and that’s really helped build my own confidence up,” Middlebrook said.

She said getting out on the court with her teammates is helping her fit in. An on-and-off ankle injury hampered her playing time early on, but she learned to manage it.

Mittie feels some of Middlebrook’s emergence is because the coaching staff has adapted to her as she becomes part of the program.

“I think we’re helping put her in better positions,” Mittie said. “They still have to make those plays and do those things, and she’s doing a great job of doing that.

“It is tough to integrate a player (who’s) new that’s going to control the ball for the better part of the possession,” Mittie said. “How does she best fit, where does she feel comfortable, where does she need the ball, where does she best set the table for everybody else, all of those things are factors.”

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