By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Fast starts are the norm for Deb Patterson's basketball teams, but the norm for all coaches is also never being satisfied with an 8-1 record like the Wildcats have this year.
In six of the last 10 seasons, K-State has started the season with either an 8-1 start, or in the case of the 2008-09 season, a 9-0 beginning to the hoop year.
That's good, but the Wildcat basketball coach also understands that the road gets tougher as soon as the calendar flips from December to January.
With that in mind, Patterson calls the remaining four games of the 2010 portion of the season "pivotal" to the rest of the year.
"We have two segments coming up with a big fat turkey and ham in between," Patterson said. "I feel good about this team, but we have to stay in shape and continue to get better. This 'chunk one' and 'chunk two' of our schedule will be a challenge for us to get better."
"Chunk one" starts tonight at 6 p.m., in the Christmas Classic in San Antonio, Texas, where the Wildcats will play the host school, UTSA, and tomorrow at 5 p.m., against Middle Tennessee State. "Chunk two" follows at the Big Sky Classic in Hanover, N.H., where K-State will play Dartmouth and Vermont on Dec. 29 and 30.
K-State is 8-1 with the lone loss to Iowa, 68-62, in Iowa City. In the eight victories, K-State has won by margins of 23, 11, 16, 10, 10, 5, 27 and 20 points. Defense has been the key as the Wildcats have held opponents to fewer than 50 points five times. In fact, no other team but Iowa has scored more than 53 points on the Cats.
But while the defense is allowing an average of just 50.2 points per game on 34 percent shooting, offensively K-State is managing only a modest 63 points per game on 42 percent shooting, which includes 31 percent from 3-point range.
"We have to do a better job of running offense and get some better consistency with each possession down the floor," said Patterson. "We're keeping an edge defensively, and we hope to expand that, but offensively we just have to learn how to play with more poise and confidence.
"We always felt like we have to be at around 70 points to be in the game at the Big 12 level, but that's a load of points for someone like us hovering around 50 or 60 points," said Patterson. "But we're going to try to keep pushing toward that. That (70 points) will keep you in games if you're playing defense like we are. At some point, our offense is just going to have to step up. We have four close to averaging in double figures, and five would be a dream."
Brittany Chambers has been leading K-Sate with a 15.4 scoring average, while Taelor Karr is at 11.7 per game and Jalana Childs 10.8. Nearing the 10-point scoring mark is Branshea Brown at 8.9, while next in line is Mariah White at 4.8.
While offense is a concern, Patterson says, "I'm very pleased," with K-State's overall play through the first one-third of the 2010-11 season.
"This group has done a better job of working to get better. They haven't stalled out like some teams have done. We haven't had those major lulls," said Patterson. "It's been a group dedicated toward working hard. They haven't stopped trying to be better."
After the set of games in San Antonio and Hanover, K-State will open Big 12 Conference action on Jan. 9 against Oklahoma State in Bramlage Coliseum.