ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite beating Vanderbilt for most of the first half and heading into halftime with a 38-37 lead, K-State was unable to overcome a second-half surge by the Commodores, as the Wildcats’ season ended with a 74-61 loss Monday evening in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in The Pit at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The fourth-seeded Commodores’ speed and physicality proved to be vital in their victory over the fifth-seeded Wildcats as they were able to drive past K-State and put themselves at the free-throw line where they made the most of their opportunities.
“There were just numerous possessions where obviously they were comfortable spreading the floor and taking us to the rim one on one,” said head coach Deb Patterson. “That’s where their strength and quickness was a huge factor. To me offensively, that was the difference in the game.
“It was their ability to break us down and go one on one off the dribble, and shoot at a high percentage for layups.”
Vanderbilt’s speed was evident, as K-State was forced into fouling the Commodores several times, sending them to the free-throw line 20 times. Vanderbilt made the most of those opportunities, shooting 75 percent from the line.
The Wildcats had no answer for the Commodores, led by senior forward Christina Wirth and senior guard Jennifer Risper. Combined, the pair scored 51 points.
Meanwhile, K-State only visited the foul line four times throughout the game.
The Wildcats countered their opponent’s quickness with good outside shooting.
However, Vanderbilt clearly gained momentum midway through the second half when K-State went 0-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
An 11-0 run by the Commodores with 7:38 remaining in the game, would prove to be too much for Patterson’s team to overcome.
“I think Vanderbilt got very aggressive offensively and also began to dominate the extra possessions on the rebounds,” Patterson said. “I think that was probably the most significant aspect of the stretch run of that game.”
During that run, junior forward Ashley Sweat and senior forward Marlies Gipson received their fourth fouls of the game, causing Patterson to sit them on the bench.
She was unable to keep them there for long, though, as her team was facing a double-digit deficit late in the game. Therefore, in a desperate attempt to catch the Commodores, she sent Gipson and Sweat back in the game with 6:07 remaining.
As the Wildcats’ hopes were fading with 2:47 remaining, Gipson picked up her fifth foul and walked to the bench for the final time. She finished her last career game with 16 points.
However, despite the loss, it was not difficult for senior point guard Shalee Lehning to look past the final game of her prolific career. She sounded humbled as she put her previous four years into perspective.
“In the immediate, the loss is disappointing,” Lehning said. “But we can’t help but be proud of our team and the accomplishments that we have made together.
“I think we have surpassed a lot of expectations and we have accomplished things together that nobody ever thought was possible. It’s just been great. It’s been the best four years of my life.”