Woods growing up on game’s biggest stage

By Joshua Kinder

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Without hesitation Saturday, Ashia Woods stepped back and buried an open 3-pointer from the baseline against Princeton.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Woods said. “I was open, so I just took it.”

Though it’s just one shot in one game, it’s a play the Kansas State freshman probably wouldn’t have made a month ago, let alone in an NCAA tournament game on the biggest stage in the women’s game.

It’s not that Woods wasn’t capable of knocking a basket down like that before. She simply wouldn’t have even tried such a shot.

“She would have five reasons not to take that 3 - all of them start with the letter ‘F’ - fear, fear, fear, fear, fear,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said Sunday. “She’s becoming more confident, and with that, I think she becomes more aggressive and uses her instincts.”

That 3-pointer in the first-round win over Princeton here was just another sign of the growth the 5-foot-11 guard from Wichita has made throughout the season for the eighth-seeded Wildcats, who take on No. 1-seed Connecticut tonight at 6 — televised on ESPN2.

“Her development has been very steady throughout the season,” Patterson said. “She’s grown as a defender and she’s been very important to us in any success we had during Big 12 play. We’ve gone to her, used her in a stopper role for the minutes she played.

“I think yesterday, we saw a little bit where she is growing offensively. She’s beginning to be a player on the floor who can at least keep us in offense and is beginning to develop an aggressive thought process.”

Woods’ impact Saturday was significant. Though she finished with four points and three rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench, what she did defensively couldn’t have been more important for K-State (20-13). Woods totaled three blocks and came away with a dazzling steal late in which she tiptoed down the sideline trying to keep the ball in play.

“Our guard play was not good yesterday and we needed Ashia to come in and make a few stops and keep us in offense,” Patterson said. “Her minutes were so significant to us having an opportunity to compete down the stretch and ultimately win that game.”

Woods, who averaged 22 points and eight rebounds a game during her senior year at Wichita Collegiate, said she was initially nervous in her first NCAA tournament game, but that once she got into the flow she was able to settle down.

“I was just trying to make an impact on defense and the blocks just came in the moment,” said Woods, who had a season-high nine points and seven rebounds against Dartmouth this season. “It felt good to be able to do that.

“I wasn’t expecting major minutes. I just take what I get and try to play my role for the team. I’m just trying to prove myself and get better every chance I get on the floor.”

But for Woods, that starts in practice, where even a few weeks ago, she was still hesitant to shoot the ball very much.

“I just wouldn’t do it — I’ll give it to Brittany (Chambers) to shoot it because she has a better of chance of it going in that if I shoot it. But Coach P has told me to take more shots — ‘if it’s open, take it.’ The more I do that, the more confidence I get in what I’m doing offensively. It’s just building my confidence right now — success breeds more confidence.”

But Chambers said Woods is just scratching the surface of how good she could be for the Wildcats in the years to come. At practice, Chambers said Woods does things sometimes that are nothing short of amazing.

“She so good around the basket,” Chambers said. “She’ll be guarded by Brandy (Brown) or Jalana (Childs) and she finds ways to score. Her finishing ability is best on the team by far. I don’t know how she does it — she can be in the air and then finish on the other side of the rim. That’s what I’m saying, nobody’s seen that, but you see her in practice and she is by far the best finisher at the basket.

“You just wait until next year.”

K-State will need Woods more next year, too, as the Wildcats lose three starters, including Tasha Dickey, who’s averaged 10.1 points per game from her guard position. Aside from Chambers and Mariah White, the majority of Wildcats coming back are largely inexperienced and they will need to replace more than 33 points per game.

“Her future is as bright as she wants it to be because she has everything to be a great player,” Chambers said. “She’s so gifted. I think next year, you’re going to see a whole different person because we’re going to need her to be more offensive, like Tasha this year. She’s going to have to shoot the ball — I think she has a lot more up her sleeve than people have seen so far.”

That may be the case, but if K-State is going to have a chance tonight against the Huskies (30-4), the Wildcats will need more what Woods provided in the first round victory.

“You’re at that point in the season where everyone in this game is going to have to be ready to make a positive impact,” Patterson said. “When we go to our bench, our bench is going to have to answer and contribute. You can’t just spell somebody minutes because you can get steamrolled by a basketball team like UConn pretty quick.

“So, when you do go to your bench, it’s about people literally and positively contributing — making stops on the defensive end, boarding the ball and assisting in your offensive production.”

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