Women’s basketball faces uphill challenge

Senior guard Bri Craig and junior forward Jessica Sheble cheer for their team on Nov. 16, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. K-State racked up the points against Abilene Christian University with a score of 76-45. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

Let’s go back to about a month ago when the K-State women’s basketball team hung 102 points on the Florida Atlantic Owls to improve to 8-1 on the season. Things were going well for this team, and the Wildcats seemed to be on the track to the NCAA Tournament.

Christmas break began at K-State, and the momentum continued to roll for the Wildcats as they picked up wins against Sam Houston State and Western Illinois. They had a 10-1 overall record before heading into Big 12 play.

Then began K-State’s tumble.

The Wildcats dropped their Big 12 opener to Iowa State 84-79. K-State trailed by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats outscored the Cyclones in the final 10 minutes of play. Unfortunately, it was not enough, and the Cats fell to 0-1 in conference play.

Defense was basically nonexistent for head coach Jeff Mittie’s squad in the next two games. The women fell 87-73 to TCU and were then dismantled by West Virginia’s Bria Holmes, who scored 23 points in the Mountaineers’ 72-53 victory. K-State’s record quickly fell to 10-4 and 0-3 in the Big 12.

One day after the men’s basketball team was dismantled by the Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma, the women’s team gave it a try against Oklahoma. The Wildcats didn’t do themselves any favors, falling into a deep 22-8 hole after one quarter. They fought their way back into the game, but the first-quarter disaster proved to be too much to overcome. The Sooners won the game 68-58. Now sitting with their backs against the wall with a 10-5 overall record and an 0-4 Big 12 record, the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament hopes were fading.

Oklahoma State came to Manhattan on Jan 13. The Wildcats needed a win. A tight game through the first three quarters, the Cowgirls held a 5-point advantage with one quarter left. Although winning after three quarters, Oklahoma State suddenly hit a wall. They missed their final 14 shots of the game, and K-State took advantage of the misses in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats won their first Big 12 game 47-44.

The momentum and defensive intensity carried into the Cats’ next game at home against TCU. K-State’s defense showed up early and shut down the explosive offense of the Horned Frogs. The Wildcats won the game 58-49 for their second Big 12 win.

K-State is now 12-5 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Cats sit in eighth place in the conference. So where does this team go from here?

K-State is going to need to get some significant wins down the road if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament. Of the 12 wins this team has, none really pop out and wow a selection committee. Unfortunately, this won’t be an easy task for the Wildcats.

They still have to play No. 4 Baylor and No. 6 Texas. Twice. They will still host No. 19 Oklahoma. Outside of those games, the Wildcats also have to hit the road five more times. Making the tournament will be no easy task for this team, but it can be done.

So, how do they do it?

It’s no secret that the Wildcat defense has been lackluster this season. Of 10 teams in the Big 12, the Wildcats rank ninth in points allowed, allowing 67.3 points per game. That needs to get better if K-State hopes to knock off some of the top-ranked teams.

The Wildcats have success when they work the ball through the post before kicking it out for a jump shot. With 6-foot-5-inch junior forward Breanna Lewis standing in the post, K-State needs to be looking to her as its top scoring option.

The biggest hole in the team to this point is the guard play. Junior guard Kindred Wesemann is averaging 13.2 points per game, but she alone isn’t enough of a threat to other teams.

Senior guard Megan Deines started off the season red-hot and was possibly this team’s biggest asset. Over the last few games, though, Deines has really fallen off the map, averaging a mere 9.6 points per game. If the Wildcats want to knock off some of these teams, they’ll need Deines to get back to the player she was early in the season’s campaign.

The team knows the challenges they face in the next 12 games. Mittie knows that it is going to take some big wins if he hopes to see his team selected for the NCAA Tournament. All the Cats can do is take it one game at a time and hope they earn their way in.

It starts again for the Wildcats when they travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Wednesday to take on the 5-12 Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. The Jayhawks are 0-6 in Big 12 Conference play, but what better way to keep the ball rolling than in the Sunflower Showdown?