By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - It's February 9, which means another month of regular-season hoops remains before the Big 12 Championships tipoff in Kansas City on March 8.
Now consider this about the 6-2 and 16-5 Kansas State women's basketball team. Last year the team won a total of five Big 12 games (5-11), and was in the victory column just 14 times overall (14-18).
Yes, already that's a one-game improvement in league play with eight games to play, and a two-game improvement overall with a minimum of 10 games remaining.
Heading into tonight's game at 7 against 4-4, 15-7 Texas in Bramlage Coliseum, K-State coach Deb Patterson said she had a "total understanding" of where the Wildcats were placed in the preseason poll, and remains most careful with her words in looking to the final eight league games.
"We could still end up there. There's so much more of the league season that is ahead of us," said the Wildcat coach. "Hopefully, we can surpass those preseason expectations, and I think we have a chance to do so if we stay true to our character."
In fact, Patterson refuses to allow herself to talk to the team about such goals as making the NCAA Tournament or earning a first-round bye in the Big 12 Championships, which takes at least a fourth-place league finish.
"It won't be until the 15th game of the season that I will remotely think about that," said the Wildcat coach. "It seems like light years away from us. What we've achieved in eight games can flip so quickly in the next seven or eight games."
That's especially true when K-State plays No. 1 Baylor, No. 6 Texas A&M, two games versus No. 22 Iowa State, plus tonight's game against Texas, which is a team on a four-game win streak, during the coming weeks.
What Patterson does, however, is salute her Wildcats for a job well done through the first half of the league season.
"With the way we competed, the toughness shown and the accountability, I would give us an 'A.' We've been very gritty and very tough. We've maximized our opportunities to compete and haven't given a lot away," said Patterson. "In terms of our defense, I would evaluate us as a 'B-' and offensively a 'C-'.
She added, "I like the fact that we're moving. We're not stagnant and we're not moving backwards. We're moving forward."
Sophomore Brittany Chambers admitted, "We couldn't have asked for much more through the first part of the year, but we're still trying to move up. We never get much credit, so we weren't surprised by being picked ninth. We're used to being the underdog; we like to prove people wrong. This team has the work ethic to make some special things happen."
And no, the Wildcats' leading scorer is not surprised.
"We knew we had the talent, we knew we had another year of experience, and we knew that Jalana (Childs) was going to have a bust-out year," said Chambers. "We've just grown up mentally and have a better team chemistry."
Fellow sophomore Taelor Karr added, "We feel like with the toughness we play with, on any given day we can play with anyone. The NCAA is a huge goal, and winning the Big 12 is always there."
Looking for 799
K-State enters play tonight just two victories shy of the 800 mark in all-time Wildcat victories. It's a club that includes just 11 other teams, as Penn State reached the mark on Sunday. In 43 seasons, K-State is 798-472, for a winning mark of .628.
The task will not be easy as after opening the year 0-4 in conference games, Texas has reversed those numbers to go 4-0 in the last two weeks.
Tonight's game will match strength against strength as the Longhorns are averaging 81 points per game, while K-State is allowing only 53 points per game. Nine times in 21 games K-State has held opponents to fewer than 50 points.
Tonight's game will be televised live on Fox Sports Kansas City.
In the last half-dozen games, K-State's Jalana Childs has scored fewer than 15 points just once and has averaged just over 16 points per game.
K-State's 1-2-3 scoring punch has been most consistent as Brittany Chambers, Childs and Taelor Karr are averaging a combined 37.8 points a game for the total season, and 37.6 points per game in Big 12 play.
K-State travels to Iowa State on Sunday for a 4 p.m. tipoff. The game will be televised by ESPN2.