Wildcats set to play spoiler role against Jayhawks

George Walker | The Collegian Senior forward Katya Leick looks to pass around KU guard Aisa Boyd.

The K-State women’s basketball team is looking to stave off its fifth road loss in a row tonight when they travel to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence to take on their in-state rival Kansas. The Wildcats (10-16, 4-11 Big 12) are fresh off of a dismantling loss at the hands of No. 13 West Virginia on Saturday night, and are looking to break a three-game losing streak against the Jayhawks. The Jayhawks (12-15, 5-10 Big 12) are fresh off of two losses on the road, and haven’t lost to the Wildcats in over two-years, the last loss coming Feb. 12, 2012.

The last two games for Kansas head coach Bonnie Henrickson’s team have been close ones, losing to both Iowa State and Oklahoma last week by a combined six-points. The Jayhawks were led on their two-game road trip by their junior forward Chelsea Gardner, who had 31 points and 18 rebounds combined.

Gardner has consistently been the best player for the Jayhawks throughout the season. She ranks in the top 5 in both points per game and rebounding, averaging 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Because of Gardner, the Jayhawks are a dangerous team in the paint, and can get multiple second-chance opportunities. Gardner also makes her presence known in the paint on defense; the 6-foot 3-inch Gardner uses her length to disrupt shots close to the basket, averaging 1.9 blocks per game, a factor that could force the Wildcats to get-going from around the arc.

The Wildcats understand the presence that Gardner and her teammates bring to the floor can create issues.

“(Gardner) is a great player, the big 12 is very high caliber and has very high-talented teams with athletic players on each and every team,” K-State senior forward Katya Leick said. “KU has very good athletes and we have to approach them like we would every other team, we have to be prepared. Gardner is a great player and we just have to go with what the coaches tell us and the game plan.”

This game means a lot for the seniors of the team, as it will be the last time that the seniors will play their in-state rivals. As Leick and her fellow senior forward Ashlynn Knoll were transfers to the Wildcat team, they have yet to nab a win against their Kansas, losing in all three of their opportunities.

Mistakes and turnovers late in the game could play a tremendous part in the game. The Wildcats and Jayhawks rank eighth and ninth respectively in the Big 12 in turnover margin, both averaging more than a two-turnover deficit handling the ball.

“We have had some games where we were so close and we were like we could have won that game,” Leick said. “I know that, especially against our in-state rival, that’s something that we don’t want to ever end on our last time playing (Kansas) being a ‘what if’ or ‘could have.’ I really feel like if we give it our all and play well, that it will be a good game and hopefully we come out with the win.”

With their postseason outlook already looking bleak, the Wildcats can look ahead to playing the spoiler against the Jayhawks. The Jayhawks, with three-games left in their regular season, could pull within .500 if they win the rest of their games and could make it into postseason play. The Wildcats, with a win, could immediately knock the Jayhawks from post-season contention.

“As I head into this game, I’m just really focused on to try to prepare just for the hard and fast elements of playing KU and their talent,” head coach Deb Patterson said. “If we were to win and were in that spoiler role, I guess that adds another layer to the rivalry. But we’re a long way from that, they beat us the first time around on our own floor, so we know we have our hands full because they have so much that they are playing for.”

With the game having so much meaning for the seniors as they play in their last few games, the Wildcats could manage to add one last highlight to their season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m in Allen Fieldhouse.