After earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament a week ago, the K-State women’s basketball team was floating on cloud nine. The Wildcats did not let the feeling end quickly after they defeated the No. 8-seeded George Washington on Friday. But on Sunday evening, the magic came to an end for the Wildcats.
The No. 1-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, 33-1, were too much for K-State to handle, and the 2015-16 campaign came to an end for the 19-13 Wildcats with a 73-47 loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I think we found it difficult to maintain our focus,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said in his postgame radio interview. “If we’re going to take steps in the program, you’ve got to be able to play in these environments. You’ve got to be able to play through that adversity, and tonight we struggled with that.”
The Wildcats were led in the charge by junior center Breanna Lewis. She contributed 21 points and 9 rebounds and was the main source of production for K-State early on.
“My teammates were doing a great job of getting the ball to me,” Lewis said in the postgame press conference. “Regardless of other people not producing, I was going to produce regardless. I’m going to play my hardest. I didn’t let it affect me.”
Unfortunately for K-State, Lewis was the only Wildcat who really found her way through the first quarter. She helped her team stay with the Gamecocks, and the Wildcats trailed only 18-13 after the first quarter.
“We didn’t have the discipline to play our way through that and things snowballed for us,” Mittie said regarding the lack of production outside of Lewis. “We needed to have more patience and discipline. If you’re struggling, you need to find a way to get the ball to Bre Lewis with the way she had the looks, you know.”
The game did not stay within single digits for long, as South Carolina dominated the second quarter, blasting out on a 12-2 run. A buzzer beater at the end of the first half from South Carolina senior guard Tiffany Mitchell helped the Gamecocks outscore the Wildcats 27-13 in the quarter and hold a 45-26 lead at the halftime break.
South Carolina’s defense was the story of the third quarter and the entirety of the game. The Gamecocks held junior guard Kindred Wesemann to just 5 points on the night. The Wildcats were held to just 9 points in the third quarter, and they faced a 62-35 deficit with just one quarter to play.
“That has been one of the things we struggled with,” Mittie said. “If we’re not able to make people pay down low, or Deines, Deines struggled tonight and she’s our number two or three option. It allows them to really lock down on Kindred, and they did.”
K-State got the better of South Carolina in the fourth quarter, winning the final 10 minutes 12-11. But the rally was too late for the Wildcats as they ended their very productive season.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Mittie said. “They overachieved in a lot of ways. We have talent, but we also know we have flaws that we have got to cover up. This was a year that was critical, I think, to gain some traction and we did that. Not only did we gain some traction, but we took some steps forward that maybe weren’t expected.”
The sense of improvement was not only felt by the Wildcats’ head coach, but also by the players who helped carry K-State to new heights this season. They will be critical for the Wildcats in their 2016-17 season.
“Throughout this season, we played some really tough teams and progressed a lot,” Lewis said. “I’m really looking forward to next year because I feel like we have something special.”