By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Alina Voronenko laughed as she said, "My teammates were finding me and the opponent didn't know who I was. They probably didn't even scout me."
Oklahoma State may have ignored the 6-foot-2 K-State junior, but it's certain that Oklahoma will be aware of the Wildcats' No. 32 on Wednesday night when the teams play in Norman, Okla., in a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Voronenko had a single-game career-high of seven points against Grambling State in her freshman year in 2009-10, and had only scored a total of 18 points in the first 12 games that she played in this year.
In those 94 minutes of court time this year, Voronenko had made just 7-of-30 shots, or 23 percent, from the field, and had netted just 20 percent (3-of-15) from beyond the arc.
All were good reasons for the Cowboys not to be too worried about shadowing Voronenko on Sunday.
In 20 minutes of court time in K-State's 63-45 victory over 12-2 Oklahoma State, Voronenko hit her first shot, then her second, and third, fourth, fifth and first six shots, which included not one, not two, NOT three, but her first four 3-pointers.
"Alina has that potential to shoot like that," said coach Deb Patterson. "It was really exciting to finally see her shots drop in a game situation. Hopefully this will build her some confidence and allow her to play the game that she is capable of bringing to the floor."
Associate head coach Kamie Ethridge added, "She shoots a lot in practice and she scores in practice, but hasn't done it in a game. We're excited for her. She's a unique talent, and what she does best is shoot the basketball. She will alleviate a lot of stress in our offense if she can continue to do that. Like Ashley Sweat did for us, we need someone at that position who can stretch the floor."
As for Voronenko, she admitted, "It was a lot of fun; it was cool. Gaining confidence has been an issue, so stepping up and hitting that first shot made a big difference. Hitting that first one helped me stay on the floor and my teammates were finding me."
Ethridge understood Voronenko's words as she had averaged less than seven minutes per game.
"You get in and miss that first shot, or you get in and make a turnover, where are you going to get that confidence," said Ethridge. "That's how fragile confidence is. You hit those first two shots and you feel great about yourself. Now, we hope she can take that game on the road and show it with consistency. Sunday those first two went in and she felt like a world beater."
After K-State's two December losses in Texas to UTSA and Middle Tennessee State, Patterson said, "We are going to be a team that brings a disposition everyday and a work ethic. Alina was bringing it. She showed a lot of toughness during the week no matter what she was confronted with."
Voronenko's inconsistency may be in part due to her relatively late start to the game in basketball.
"I didn't start playing until middle school," said the 20-year-old, who was born in Riga, Latvia. "My parents didn't want me to play basketball. It's not in our culture, it wasn't right for a girl to play, but they eventually came around."
Voronenko's parents, Ivan and Lyubov, moved to Sacramento, Calif., when Alina was a 7-year-old, and then to Otterville, Mo., when she was a sophomore in high school. She would quickly find her way into the national recruiting spotlight ranked as the 53rd best player in the nation, and the 17th best guard by hoopgurlz.com.
One of eight children -Lilia, Vital, Alex, Andrey, Pavel, Olga and Kirill - her biggest fan at K-State is younger brother Kirill, who also serves as a manager for the women's team.
With her parents back in Sacramento - "They're always on the move," laughed Alina - Kirill was the first to let the parents know of their daughter's heroics on Sunday.
"They're still not into basketball a great deal, but I got a nice text from my mom," Voronenko said. "It's been a long journey for them to accept basketball. They just don't want me to get hurt. It's parents being parents, right?"
Voronenko was sidelined last year when she underwent surgery on both feet to repair plantar fasciitis last January.
But since then, according to Ethridge, "She had an unbelievable summer. Nicole (Ohlde) came through and after pickup games she told the coaching staff that Alina was one of the better players on the court. It's been a little disappointing she hasn't shot the ball the way we all wanted in games, but we hope this is a breakthrough and she has found a comfort and confidence in what was a very competitive environment."