Wildcats stifle Kansas in final minutes to seal 76-68 victory

Photo by Hannah Hunsinger | Collegian Freshman guard Leticia Romero charges past KU sophomore guard Lamaria Cole on her way to the basket Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, where the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 76-68.

In a game that was close until the very end, K-State claimed a huge victory in the hostile environment of Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, pulling ahead of the Kansas Jayhawks 76-68. The Wildcats (11-16, 5-11 Big 12) beat the Jayhawks (13-15, 6-10 Big 12) in a nail-biter for the first time in over a year.

Good guard play and solid passing allowed the Wildcats to storm ahead and take the lead on the road in the first five minutes. The Wildcats showed a spark that they haven’t up to this point in the season.

“It was the (Wildcats) on-ball screen, we had no answer for it,” Jayhawk head coach Bonnie Henrickson said following the game. ”We don’t get into (Romero), we don’t make her use it, we tried to trap her, we tried to over (and) under. There was nothing (the Jayhawks could do). (Romero) was loose around the rim. It felt like shoot around for (the Wildcats).”

Head coach Deb Patterson’s Wildcats early spark turned into a fire, going 9 for 10 from the field including going 3 of 3 from behind the arc. By the 13:58 mark in the game, the Wildcats had built a 21-0 lead. Freshman guard Leticia Romero scored nine of her 26 points within the first five minutes of the game.

Romero was also a catalyst for teammates’ scoring. Romero’s strategy was to work the Jayhawk defense to her side of the floor, find a wide-open teammate as soon as the Jayhawk defense collapsed around the rim and start her drive to basket. The strategy brought her seven assists.

Romero’s fellow freshman guard Kindred Wesemann also played an important role in the Wildcats victory with 15 points, including four of the Wildcats’ six 3-point shots of the night. Romero assisted Wesemann for her final 3-pointer with a minute and a half remaining to stretch the Wildcats to an eight point lead, putting the game out of the reach of the Jayhawks.

Patterson said she realized how important it was for her guards to get going early.

“We were fortunate to get off to a hot start,” Patterson said after the game. “They were obviously flat in the beginning, and that gave us a window of opportunity. Tonight we played with a lot of intelligence, we shared the ball and we had a lot of pop in our step at the point positions with (Romero and Wesemann).”

The Jayhawks did all they could to catch up after the Wildcats fast start. Going into halftime with a 37-24 lead, the Wildcats almost gave the game away to their rivals, letting the Jayhawks go on a 25-14 run to get the game within two points with 9:06 minutes remaining.

The Jayhawks then fought to tie the game at 57 points with 6:42 minutes remaining. The Wildcats answered with a 10-1 run within the next three minutes, effectively sealing the game.

“On the road here against a really high quality Kansas team, I thought we finally brought (the fight),” Patterson said. “Offensively, I liked the fact the we were sharing the ball and getting good ball movement.”

This game was also important for the many seniors who hadn’t yet gotten a win against their rival for the Wildcats due to injuries and school transfers.

“It’s my last year, senior year, you don’t want to leave any gym with a bad feeling in your throat,” said senior forward Ashlynn Knoll. “I wanted a win at KU, so when I got my opportunity, I was like, ‘This is it, we’re going to take this. We’re not going to leave here (with a loss) and I’m not going to play my last game at KU and lose.’”

The Wildcats will take the court next on Saturday in Stillwater, Okla. to play Oklahoma State in their final regular season away game. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.