By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
With contributions by TTU Athletic Media Relations
This is the time, with the number of regular-season games reduced to one or two, with the madness of March beckoning, when teams like to turn to their seniors for production and leadership.
At Texas Tech, coach Kristy Curry has come to rely more and more on freshman Kierra Mallard.
The 6-3 center from Frisco, Texas, has been a consistent inside producer for the Lady Raiders during a disappointing season. She has scored in double figures 14 times and all but two of those scoring outputs have come in Texas Tech's last 19 games. During that span, Mallard's scoring and rebounding averages have improved.
That's a big reason why Mallard has twice been selected as the Big 12's freshman of the week.
"She's Big 12 Freshman of the Year to me," Texas Tech senior Dominic Seals said. "It's important to watch the people in front of you and learn, and I think she did that and I think she's taking it well and taking it to another step."
In Big 12 games, Mallard is close to a double-double. She's averaging 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
In Austin, Mallard had a career-high five blocked shots. She also had 10 rebounds against the Longhorns. She scored a career-high 23 points against Savannah State and recorded her career-high in rebounds with 18 against Arkansas.
All of those performances came after the calendar flipped from 2008 to 2009 and they illustrate how Mallard has shown improvement as her freshman season has progressed.
"I think she's probably one of the best freshmen in the country," Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry said. "When you look at what she's doing for her team. One of the reasons why we're a much improved basketball team is because of her presence inside. I think the biggest thing is her being consistent."
Mallard says she started playing basketball at the age of two. The Dallas native played three years at Richardson (Texas) Berkner High before transferring to Frisco (Texas) High - another Dallas suburb - for her senior year.
In her one season at Frisco, Mallard averaged 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. She and was nominated as a McDonald’s All-American.
Mallard's decision to sign with Texas Tech was based on more than just basketball.
“The first time I came to visit Tech I was impressed by everyone being a family towards each other,” she said.
As Mallard has navigated the twists and turns of a rugged Big 12 season, she has received advice and support from her teammates and coaches.
"Everybody has been helping me on figuring out the game," said Mallard, whose streak of 19 consecutive starts began on Dec. 18. "(Assistant coach Bill) Brock has really helped me figure out how to play at this level. I've learned to just to take my time. When I have the ball in my hands, I have to look and see if any teammates are open (before making a move)."
Curry admires Mallard's attitude and competitive desire. The coach realizes the freshman is the type of player around which a winning team can be built.
"I can't say enough about Kierra," Curry said. "I am really pleased with who she's trying to be, especially as a freshman. We just need to find a some way to help her. She gives us another dimension in the paint. Her word is hustle and she has a chance to be a special player."