During the course of a long basketball season, there are moments every team can look back on and identify as turning points, or games that difficult lessons were learned from.
For the Kansas State women, one of those games was the 65-57 loss at home to Oklahoma on Jan. 17.
The Wildcats trailed for much of the game, but never seemed out of it until the bitter end, despite one of their worst offensive showings of the season and allowing the Sooners’ Aaryn Ellenberg to go off for 31 points.
That game not only stopped a five-game winning streak in its tracks, but triggered a downhill tumble for K-State that culminated in a three-game skid — a day after cracking the national polls for the first time in two years.
“I think what really hurt us last time against OU was our defense and mindless turnovers,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said Monday. “That was the first game where we showed a dent in our intensity and focus — and we had gone on a long stretch where we had been a peak there.”
On Wednesday, the Wildcats (16-8, 7-5) get their second chance at the Sooners — on their court in Norman, Okla., where K-State hasn’t won since 2003. In fact, OU (16-8, 8-4) has dominated this series of late, winning the last nine meetings.
But it wasn’t losing to OU that hurt the Wildcats. It’s the way the Wildcats lost to Oklahoma that stung for this team. The Sooners were the first team to really take K-State’s leading scorer, Brittany Chambers, out of the equation with pressure defense on the perimeter.
The Wildcats’ problem was that they didn’t have an answer against the defensive strategy that others have since duplicated.
“We won the first four games and everything was going well, then OU threw that at us and it threw us for a loop,” said Chambers, who had 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting in the first meeting this season. “Teams started mimicking that and we didn’t adjust right away. Now, we’ve found ways. We aren’t scoring a lot, but we’ve found ways to win.”
K-State did just that on Sunday against Kansas when, like OU, the Jayhawks were glued to Chambers on the outside, and yet it was Jalana Childs and Branshea Brown who came up big on the inside, accounting for 28 combined points in the 47-43 victory. Tasha Dickey also came up big against KU, scoring eight early points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds.
“I think we’re getting used to it,” said Chambers, who continues to lead the Wildcats in scoring at 15.3 points per game. “We know how to get baskets other ways now. Other players are stepping up and making plays now — like Tasha and Brandy (against Kansas). That’s something we’ve really grown at since the last time we played OU.”
Patterson said part of the Wildcats’ struggles on the outside stem not from Chambers’ ability to get open necessarily, but from the makeup of her team overall. And because of that, opponents are finding ways to make offense more challenging for Chambers and the rest of the Wildcats.
“We predominantly have one 3-point shooter and if you bring two to the floor or three to the floor, that changes how people defend you,” she said. “It’s a reality for us.
“As teams go through the season, they understand your tendencies and they understand your strengths. And what they take away, you have to compensate for, which is part of what we’ll have to answer in order for us to be an even better basketball team.”
One element of the Sooners the Wildcats hope to take away this time around is the production of Ellenberg, who torched K-State, making 5-of-8 from behind the arc, while coming away with nine steals, many resulting in runaway layups on the other end.
“She’s athletic and she’s going to get her baskets, but her 3, we can’t give up,” Chambers said. “We have to make sure we have a hand in her face because she will make them.”
Ellenberg’s big night in Bramlage still haunts Patterson.
“We didn’t bring an accountability to her and I’m still extremely upset about that,” she said. “I think about it almost everyday because I don’t understand it, except that it was a part of that mental softness we brought to the floor that day.
“Now, she’s good. She’s really good. But we just flat-out gave her open looks. That, I don’t get.”
Adding more drama to Wednesday night’s game is that the Sooners are one game ahead of the Wildcats in the Big 12 standings. A win in Norman would put the Wildcats in a tie with OU and Texas A&M for second in the league, depending on what the Aggies do against Missouri tonight.
“We’re trying to finish, at worst, third in this league, and right now OU is standing in the way of that,” Chambers said. “Getting a win down there would be huge for us.”
KANSAS STATE (16-8, 7-5)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Brittany Chambers Jr. 5-8 15.3 6.0
G — Tasha Dickey Sr. 5-10 9.7 4.2
G — Mariah White Jr. 5-8 6.0 4.2
F — Jalana Childs Sr. 6-2 13.6 5.0
F — Branshea Brown Sr. 6-2 5.0 5.1
OKLAHOMA (16-8, 8-4)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Aaryn Ellenberg So. 5-7 17.3 2.5
G — Morgan Hook So. 5-10 10.5 3.7
G — Whitney Hand Jr. 6-1 12.5 6.6
C — Joanna McFarland Jr. 6-3 8.7 8.1
C — Nicole Griffin So. 6-6 5.4 4.5