Rachel Ranke said her second season at K-State has been “up and down.”
“I’ve struggled a little bit shooting beyond the arc, but I feel like I’ve done a better job of finding other ways to contribute on the floor, whether that’s being effective on the defensive end or finding other ways to score besides just shooting the 3-ball,” said Ranke, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from Burnsville, Minnesota.
She admitted she relied on the long ball too much as a freshman. But it took her places.
She made the Big 12 All-Freshman Team last season. She drilled 89 3-pointers, which led the conference and ranked second in the nation among freshmen.
The Wildcats played 34 games last season, and Ranke started 27 of those. Through 18 games this year — Ranke has started them all — she’s made 38 3-pointers. However, she’s only shot 115 of them (she attempted 278 last season).
So, right now, she’s shooting a better percentage from distance (33 percent) than she did last season (32).
Ranke said she used to dwell on her last shot too much. Once a player misses, Ranke said, body language can become negative, as can overall attitude.
But she said the coaches worked with her to correct those areas.
“Now, I’m like, ‘Well I’m a shooter, so I’ve got to keep pulling it no matter what,’” she said. “You can go 0-for-10, then you can go 10-for-10.”
She’s also seen a greater need to expand her game and contribute in all areas. That means scoring from inside the arc, working on different types of shots, focusing on defense, etc.
In addition to scoring 10.1 points per game, Ranke is averaging 3.2 rebounds. She’s blocked seven shots and tallied 20 steals, too.
In K-State’s victory over Texas Tech, Ranke drilled a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead in the fourth quarter. But with the Red Raiders focused on senior point guard Kayla Goth and junior forward Peyton Williams, Ranke also made two other key plays.
“She still has a ways to go, but she made two critical baskets in this game inside the arc,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “She got the jumper just inside that right elbow, then she got the curl cut on the left side. She hit three huge baskets in the fourth.”
Before nailing the go-ahead 3-pointer in the fourth, Ranke was 0-for-6 from distance in the game.
“I think at those times, I’m realizing I’m not scoring beyond the arc, so I need to find another way to contribute,” she said. “I need to get inside, maybe get some stops on the defensive end.”
Kansas State may have found something.
The Wildcats have won two in a row. They’ll now host Oklahoma State — which is 12-4, 3-2 in Big 12 play — on Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3, and also will be available on the K-State Sports Network and for free at kstatesports.com.
“I think what they do well is they just don’t don’t have a glaring weakness,” Mittie said. “They’re solid across the board.”
Conference play has been a roller-coaster ride for K-State (12-6, 3-3).
The Wildcats were blown out by 38 at Iowa State. Then they smoked Oklahoma by 30.
They were up a point at then-No. 4 Baylor (now No. 2), and though they lost by 15, they fought. But then in-state rival Kansas came into Bramlage Coliseum and won, snapping K-State’s 10-game win streak in the series.
With question marks looming after that setback, K-State handled then-No. 11 Texas at home and won at Texas Tech last Saturday.
“We just want to try to find some consistency here, and just keep moving forward and get on a winning streak here,” Ranke said.
Williams said the Wildcats have told themselves something before the last couple games.
“‘We’re going to win this game with our effort and defense,’” she said. “‘Yeah, our offense is kind of going to go up and down, but if we can keep them lower than we can score, then that’s how you win the game.’”
The Wildcats rank 72nd in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 37.3 percent per game.
“I think our defense is OK,” Mittie said. “We’re still too sporadic there.”
The defense always needs to be good, but maybe more so now because Oklahoma State is heating up from 3-point range. The Cowgirls hit nine 3s in a loss to West Virginia, six in a win over Texas Tech and nine in a win over Kansas.
Vivian Gray and Braxtin Miller are averaging 18.3 points apiece for Oklahoma State. Both are shooting better than 40 percent from distance. Thus far, K-State ranks 155th in the country as opponents are shooting 30.7 percent from 3-point land.
With the Wildcats’ defensive statistics, it’s worth noting that playing in a difficult conference like the Big 12 can skew those numbers. For example, Kansas leads the conference in 3-point defense, but ranks 35th in the country. Baylor leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense and West Virginia is No. 5, but another Big 12 team doesn’t show up until Iowa State at No. 36.
“I think that there are times when I really like us defensively, but then there are stretches where I don’t,” Mittie said. “I’ve talked about those stretches. They tend too much to be related to whether we’re making shots or not.”
But Mittie praised the way his team handled the Texas Tech game. The Red Raiders used a 15-2 run to pull ahead in the third quarter, but K-State responded.
“We did seem to play harder, and we did seem to understand an urgency when things weren’t going well,” Mittie said. “That’s something that we’ve talked at length about that we haven’t done well. Maybe that defense is starting to come around and not be tied to the ball going in the basket, but I think that’s still something that we have to keep preaching and keep reminding them (about).”
Last Friday, Mittie asked his team what kind of shootaround it wanted on Saturday.
He did this because he wanted to conserve energy. The Texas Tech tilt marked K-State’s third game in six days.
“I just told them,” he said, “‘I trust you guys want to play well at 3. I want you to play well at 3. Tell me what you feel like you need to do in shootaround to do that.’”
Mittie said Monday’s practice was “fairly active” because the team is coming off a day of rest Sunday.
That said, two of his vets are beginning to get their rest. Goth leads the team with 655 minutes logged. Williams is third with 584.
Mittie said starters receive 75 to 80 percent of the reps early in the season. It drops to 50 percent near Christmas, then to a third at this time of the year. It’s just how he tries to prevent tired legs as the Big 12 schedule progresses.
“This is always a great opportunity for our bench to grow because they are going to get a lot of the reps today and a lot of the coaching today,” he said on Monday.
But he’s not concerned about Goth and Williams not being sharp after that rest.
“With a young player, sometimes you worry about days off, what they’re doing with their spare time,” Mittie said. “That’s always a concern. With the veterans, they’ve been in the grind long enough. They kind of know how to balance.”
The Wildcats had Sunday off, but they still came in and received treatment.
Mittie saw senior forward Kali Jones, who is dealing with an injured ankle. The two spoke briefly. He said Jones is still wearing a walking boot, but that she said things were feeling good.
“She said it felt better,” Mittie said.
Jones played 26 minutes at Texas Tech, her most since logging 31 against Arizona State on Dec. 16. She scored eight points on 3 of 6 shooting.