K-State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie has quickly learned how much the Sunflower Showdown means to his program and to the university. He was in attendance Monday night as the men’s basketball team upset No. 8 Kansas. He stood to the side of the student section, pumped his fists and yelled “Go State!” to the tune of the fight song.
He and his Wildcats make the short trek to Lawrence tonight, eyeing a season sweep of the Jayhawks for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
In the first matchup, K-State stormed back from a nine-point, second-half deficit to beat Kansas 58-52. Since that victory, both teams have struggled with consistency. The Wildcats carry 4-9 conference record and the Jayhawks are not far behind with a 4-8 record.
K-State’s recent form has been especially frustrating for Mittie.
“I think you have to compete,” Mittie said after K-State’s Feb. 21 loss to Oklahoma. “I think we have to compete harder. We are not winning enough individual things and we are not fighting hard enough. Those things are not acceptable.”
Sophomore forward Breanna Lewis struggled against Kansas in the first meeting, but she has since been on a tear and is close to making history on Wednesday. With three blocks, she will tie former K-State forward Marlies Gipson for the school record for most blocks in a season with 86.
Lewis, sophomore guard Kindred Wesemann, and senior guards Ashia Woods and Haley Texada have been leaders for K-State’s offense as of late, but the Wildcats still sit near bottom of the Big 12 standings with an average of 59.4 points a game on 39.4 percent shooting from the field.
Against Oklahoma, K-State failed to reach their season average by shooting 38.6 percent in the nine-point defeat. The Wildcats have particularly gone cold from beyond the arc ever since Wesemann’s eight 3-pointer performance against Texas on Feb. 8.
But for Mittie, it’s not the 3-point shooting and offensive output that explains the Wildcats struggles. It’s the competitiveness of his team.
“What I saw out there was a lot of individual plays where they were whipping us. Kaylon Williams was just whipping us in multiple stretches,” Mittie said following the loss to the Sooners. “At halftime, they statistically had more offensive rebounds than we had defensive rebounds.”
This latest edition of the Sunflower Showdown may come down to rebounding as both teams are stacked together in the conference standings in rebounding offense, rebounding defense and rebounding margin. One player of concern for the Wildcats is Kansas forward Chelsea Gardner, who ranks fourth in the conference with 8.1 rebounds per game. Woods is the highest-ranking Wildcat with an average of 6.2 boards per contest.
Speaking of Woods, the Wichita native is playing in her last regular season contest against the Jayhawks. Woods has emerged as one of the top scoring threats for the Wildcats as of late. Her 16-point effort against Oklahoma was the third double-digit scoring effort in K-State’s last four games. The senior class members — Texada, Woods and Heidi Brown — are 6-4 in the last 10 contests against the Jayhawks. The last win in Lawrence came in February of 2014 in an 76-68 victory.
One constant for the Wildcats this season has been their stout defense and ability to create turnovers. Although Oklahoma defeated the Wildcats 73-64, they committed 24 turnovers, including 16 in the first half. Kansas has issues with turnovers this season, ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 with 17.6 turnovers per game, including ranked last with a minus-3.93 turnover margin.
Tonight might not be the last time these two schools see each other in the 2014-15 season. K-State and Kansas met in the 2013-14 Big 12 Conference Tournament, which resulted in a 87-84 overtime Kansas victory.
Each of the last 10 Sunflower Showdown meetings have been decided by 10 points or less.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.