“We’ve got a long ways to go.”
After Kansas State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie said that in the postgame press conference after the Wildcats clawed by Incarnate Word 85-41, Ayoka Lee and Rachel Ranke nodded.
Kansas State needed to reset. Incarnate Word (2-4) provided the perfect opportunity as an undersized team that was struggling and on the road.
The Wildcats (4-3), took advantage Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum, for the most part.
Mittie and the Wildcats suffered a pair of losses to Memphis and No. 15 Michigan State over the weekend in Bimini, Bahamas, at the Junkanoo Jam.
The Wildcats’ response was to feed their freshman star, Lee, who was the recipient of her second-consecutive Big 12 Freshman of the Week honor Monday.
Lee finished Tuesday’s game with 20 points on 10-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds and six blocks.
So the context of needing to get better after a 44-point win? It made sense.
“We are a little more timely than we’ve been,” Mittie said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, there’s no doubt about that. But in terms of what I think our guards, in the last couple of games, have continued to grow from is that they are moving the ball better. They are starting to trust things.”
Ranke didn’t start the game shooting well. She finished with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting from 3-point range, but before she got going, she resored to ball movement — an emphasis of hers this season.
“I knew I had to get into a rhythm and find my teammates a little bit better because I knew they were finding me,” she said. “I feel like making the extra pass has been a big emphasis on our team this year. We’ve been really working on one more and just finding that.”
It was Ranke’s answer that actually prompted Mittie’s original response. He wasn’t pleased with the defense despite holding the Cardinals to 41 points, and only five in the third quarter.
The Wildcats had a clear size advantage in the matchup.
But he liked how they executed plays.
“I think one of the best things we did tonight was, where we’ve drawn up a couple plays at halftime in the past and come out and not done a very good job, The last two games we’ve done pretty well with that,” Mittie said. “I think that shows that our minds are getting locked in to those things and they understand the importance of them.”
Peyton Williams was business as usual, too, making all seven of her shots for 14 points with seven rebounds and five assists.
The only hiccup for the Wildcats were themselves. Sixteen turnovers were a problem, but the Wildcats were excellent from the floor, shooting 65% from the field and 45.5% from deep.
Ranke made back-to-back 3-pointers out of a timeout in the second quarter to give Kansas State a 12-point lead.
Kansas State opened the second half on a 12-2 to extend the lead to 53-26. UIW called timeout.
The Wildcats’ dominant run resulted in a 28-5 third quarter.
Mittie’s team lost the two games in the Junkanoo Jame by a total of nine points, so the separation between the Wildcats and other solid Power 5 teams isn’t gaping. But the Wildcats have handled the lighter part of their schedule with ease.
Tuesday was no different. Scoring opportunities were lush, as the Wildcats were unstoppable in the paint. When fronted by UIW defenders, Lee still safely grabbed entry passes and finished over three Cardinals.
The value in a game like this was more than getting back in the win column in convincing fashion. Role players like Laura Macke, Cymone Goodrich and Emilee Ebert all played more than 15 minutes.
Last week Wildcats were a day removed from the first loss of the season, falling to Texas-Arlington 57-53. The team missed injured players and put others outside of their natural positions. The depth chart is a little more stable now.
The Wildcats have another early-season test next though, traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., to play No. 23 Arkansas at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We weren’t trying to score 110 tonight,” Mittie said. “That wasn’t the goal. The goal was to show better disciple and show better team basketball. You see the numbers. We shoot 65%. That’s a step forward for us.”
Ebert won’t redshirt
Mittie was on the fence on whether he’d redshirt true freshman Emilee Ebert this season. The answer cleared up for him in the past week when the injury bug struck the Wildcats hard.
Emma Chapman and Macke were forced into playing guard, so Ebert’s depth proved to be important.
Also, he sees potential.
“There were just some things and the fact that Emilee had gotten more practices,” Mittie said. “I think what you will find with her is that she will be a more confident player as she continues to get more minutes.”