When the Wildcats made a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, in early February, they were beaten by 20 points. After their defeat to the Mountaineers, the Wildcats lost three games in a row and their confidence was low. K-State head coach Jeff Mittie told his players they were a good basketball team, despite the beatdown they just suffered.
“I told them, ‘I know you’re a good team,'” Mittie said. “I said, ‘I know good teams. I’ve been coaching long enough to know good teams and bad teams, and I know you’re a good team.’ I said, ‘My sense is that I’m going to re-watch this film and I’m going to see a lot of good stuff.'”
Maybe it was a confidence booster, or maybe it was just the right time to say that to his team.
Regardless, the Wildcats turned around and knocked off a ranked Oklahoma team en route to finishing the regular season at 18-11 overall and 8-10 in the Big 12 Conference.
“We had Oklahoma after that and we played great,” junior guard Kindred Wesemann said. “It was probably one of our best overall team wins. I just think that we came back with great focus. I think that if you have the confidence, and obviously hearing that from your coach that you are a good team makes you more confident in yourself and in your teammates.”
The Wildcats have lost to West Virginia twice this season, but they will get one more chance to prove they are a good team and that Mittie’s confidence after the 20-point loss was not misguided.
The Wildcats square off with the Mountaineers on Saturday in Oklahoma City in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. K-State is slated in the bracket as the No. 6 seed while the Mountaineers are the third seed.
The postseason provides all teams with a chance to forget about the regular season, throw everything out the window and get a fresh start on the season.
“February always flies by so fast,” Mittie said. “I thought we played good basketball in February. Now the challenge is a new season. Everybody is going after the same championship, so that’s always exciting.”
K-State enters the tournament led by Wesemann and junior center Breanna Lewis. Wesemann is averaging 12.5 points and 3.2 assists per game per game. Lewis enters the postseason at 16.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Wesemann and Lewis’ seasons this year were enough to earn them spots in the Phillips 66 All-Big 12 Conference Women’s Basketball Awards. Lewis was named to All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 All-Defensive Team, while Wesemann was awarded with All-Big 12 Second Team.
A successful weekend at the conference tournament could be just what K-State needs to earn its spot in the NCAA Tournament.
As of Wednesday, ESPN’s Charlie Creme had the Wildcats as the No. 9 seed facing South Florida in Columbia, South Carolina, for the NCAA Tournament. Sealing their spot in the tournament is something Mittie said would be great for his team.
“It’d mean a lot to this group,” Mittie said. “It’s been one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve coached. They come in every day and even if they had a bad practice or a rough day, they come back and correct it the next day. It would mean a lot because I just think we’ve grown up a lot this year.”
A win against West Virginia would not only help the Wildcats’ tournament chances, but it would also get them one step closer to a Big 12 Championship — a feat K-State has not accomplished since the 2008 season. If the Wildcats advance past West Virginia, they would face Texas, TCU or Kansas in the semifinals and would then be two wins away from a championship.
“West Virginia is pretty much the biggest thing on my mind right now,” Wesemann said. “We’ve just got to live in the present, and whatever happens in the future happens.”
K-State will tip off the Big 12 Tournament at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The game can be seen on Fox Sports Network.