The Kansas State women’s basketball team will not be sneaking into Big 12 play this season. Instead, the Wildcats will cannonball into conference play with a big splash against rival Kansas for the Sunflower Showdown tonight at 7 in Lawrence.
K-State (9-3) goes into league play fresh off a two-game win-streak.
The Wildcats pummeled UNLV 80-54 on the last day of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas on Dec. 21, and followed up that victory with another win Saturday against UC Santa Barbara in California.
KU (9-2) has had more of a break leading up to tonight.
The Jayhawks last saw the floor on Dec. 21, when they fell to No. 8 Cal in Berkeley, 88-79.
“KU/K-State games are never the prettiest,” Wildcats senior guard Brittany Chambers said following Monday’s practice. “They are like hard dog fights. We’re both grinding points out and there is a lot of emotion in the game. There’s a lot of passion and nothing is easy.
“I think it’s a very difficult first game, but a very good first game to get us going and to get us started.”
K-State swept KU last season with a 63-57 win in Lawrence on Jan. 7 and a 47-43 victory later in the year in Manhattan.
The Jayhawks, like the Wildcats, were also a NCAA tournament team a year ago, and return its 1-2 punch in Carolyn Davis and Angel Goodrich for their senior seasons.
Davis, a 6-foot-3 forward, leads KU in scoring with 15.7 points per game and Goodrich, a 5-foot-4 guard, is just behind with 13.4 points per contest and averages team-leading 6.5 assists. Tonight’s match-up is the first time Davis has faced the Wildcats since she suffered a knee injury that sidelined her for the rest of the season in Manhattan a year ago.
K-State, though, features a new look.
The Wildcats have been playing small ball this season after the departures of Jalana Childs and Branshea Brown. Relying heavily on guard play and the 3-point shot, K-State has been adjusting on the fly this year, with Chambers leading the charge.
The senior ranks 10th in school history in points with 1,378 and said it is without a doubt a new Wildcats squad for 2013, and one other conference schools may not know what to do with.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I think we’re going to be a different team than Big 12 teams have seen in the past.
“(This year) we are more of a drive-penetrate team. We shoot a lot of 3’s, but that’s off of drive-penetration. I’m excited to play teams and see how we match up with our new look. I feel like it plays off my strengths.”
Chambers said the transition has gone better than she feared.
“It’s been interesting. It’s actually been much better than I expected,” Chambers said. “Jalana was such a huge part of our team last year, along with Brandy and Tasha (Dickey) ... we have some big keys that were lost. I was expecting a much harder transition, but this team has really picked up a lot of slack.
“We’re getting to be the hard-nosed team that we want to be. We didn’t start that way at all, but our players are starting to show signs of it. Ashia (Woods’) and Mariah (White’s) defense last game — they were all over the place. And that’s the kind of gritty-hard that K-State’s always brought.”
Chambers said veteran opponents — like the Jayhawks — have been a challenge for the Wildcats so far this season. She cited K-State’s losses to No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 25 Texas A&M as examples of that.
“In both games we played good halves,” Chambers said. “In the first half against Texas A&M we played with them and in the second half of the Notre Dame game it was just a five, maybe six-point deficit.”
The Wildcats lost to the Aggies 83-60 after trailing just eight at halftime and played the Fighting Irish close in the second half, but were in the hole at halftime 49-25.
“It just showed our immaturity and struggle to play consistently for 40 minutes,” she said. “(Veteran teams) don’t make mistakes. You can’t make two, three, four mistakes in a row because they will capitalize on every one of them. So, it’s about playing smart and consistent.
“We need to build and play the same level for the whole game, and we’ll see it if we can against KU.”