Young Cats look to get on track against SMU

By Joshua Kinder

There’s no reason to hit the panic button just yet.

Staff photo by Sarah Midgorden
(Kansas State freshman forward Erica Young puts up a shot against Wichita State on Nov. 20 at Bramlage Coliseum).

But try explaining that to a group of freshmen after a second straight blowout loss — a group you’re relying on to be major contributors this season.

That’s exactly what the Kansas State women’s basketball team is going through right now. The Wildcats breezed through the exhibition slate, had no trouble with their first two opponents — Tennessee State and Charlotte — but then lost in an embarrassing 84-39 rout at UTEP, followed by a 23-point loss at home to Wichita State.

Knowing how to temper the emotions of young players, while still being able to convey the urgency of making daily improvement, can be a bit of a balancing act — especially with four freshmen in the starting lineup.

The lone starting upperclassman is junior guard Haley Texada — joined in the lineup by freshmen guards Kindred Wesemann and Leti Romero and forwards Erica Young and Bre Lewis. It’s been an up-and-down season already for the freshmen, including forward Jessica Sheble and redshirt-freshman Kelly Thomson.

Texada sympathizes with her young teammates’ early struggles, but also understands her role is to be a leader on this team and that too carries a lot of responsibility.

“You can’t get frustrated and I can’t get too frustrated because I know what its like to be there,” said Texada, who is averaging 7.5 points a game. “They’re so young and they have to be accountable for so much. Sometimes I forget they’re two years younger than I am. It’s all about working with each other and playing together.

“I put a lot of pressure on the guards because everyone follows what we do. We need to have good energy, good tempo, and a good pace. Everything will play off of that, so I just try to fulfill that leadership role everyday. If I’m not getting to the rim, I try to set good screens, make plays and set things up for other people to be successful. Sometimes it’s just about bringing the right energy and hyping my team up.”

It was just last season that sophomore guard Bri Craig was making the transition to Big 12 basketball, college and being on her own for the first time. It’s a lot to take in right away. And if anyone knows what’s its like to carry a big load early in her career, it’s Craig. She averaged nearly 34 minutes a game as a freshman.

“There’s times at practice or in games when I see them make the same mistakes I did, but I realize I have to take a step back because, ‘man, this is me last year,’” said Craig, who is averaging 4.7 points a game off the bench. “I try to talk them through these things and tell them its going to be OK, how to correct things — especially when the coaches are always on them and they feel like they can’t do anything right. I know how they feel. They’re going to get it, but it’s just going to take some time.

“As a freshman, being new to everything here, you internalize everything and take everything as a personal attack. It’s tough to balance everything when you’re so young, but once they understand things more and where we’re coming from, it will be beneficial for everyone.”

It’s a balancing act K-State coach Deb Patterson also has to perform with a young squad. She’s been down this road before and started freshmen before.

But each group is different. Though talented, this is a different group than the freshmen foursome Patterson started in 2001 with Kendra Wecker, Laurie Koehn, Megan Mahoney and Chelsea Domenico. The same can be said for the four who started in 2005 with Shalee Lehning, Marlies Gipson, Danielle Zanotti and JoAnn Hamlin.

For example, Patterson’s message following the loss at UTEP was different than her message after the loss to the Shockers. Though both were blowouts, the longtime K-State coach thought each game was lost for different reasons.

“After the UTEP game, we weren’t happy with our team, as a staff, because we didn’t think they played hard,” she said. “That’s when you send the message about doing the basics and how you need to play.

“The last game, against Wichita State, it was disappointing, but I felt like it was just the reality that we have to get better. We didn’t know enough, we didn’t execute and we didn’t play with great confidence. We played very slow and deliberate. It was a valuable lesson. We weren’t mad or angry with our team at all. We just understand that we need to get better.”

K-State’s next shot at getting better will be Thursday when the Wildcats (2-2) face SMU (6-0) at 3:15 p.m. in the first game of the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. The winner will play the Virginia/No. 3 Tennessee winner on Friday.

An eight-day break between the loss to the Shockers and the Wildcats’ first game in the Bahamas came at a perfect time for K-State.

“I really think this week has been perfect for us to get better at those things we didn’t we didn’t to do well in the last two games,” Patterson said. “Hopefully, that will translate when we line up against SMU and if we’re fortunate enough to get a win there, then we know what is waiting on the horizon — Virginia or Tennessee.

“We know the road continues to be rough, but believe day-to-day improvement and these extra days we have before we line up against SMU will help us build some confidence.”

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