Lee dominates in return, K-State bounces back to upset No. 22 South Dakota State

The Wildcats beat South Dakota State 62-53. (Photo courtesy of Scott Weaver | K-State Athletics)

After a loss to Idaho State on Tuesday, the women’s basketball team was looking to solve their recent struggles on offense.

The Wildcats found the answer on Thursday in a bounce-back upset win against No. 22 South Dakota State.

Sophomore center Ayoka Lee, who finished with a game-high 18 points, provided the spark Kansas State needed in the 62-53 win. She also added nine rebounds and a block to her total.

Head coach Jeff Mittie said he was thrilled to get his star player back on the court and mentioned how hard it was to play without Lee on the floor for a stretch of games.

“I felt like Lee really established herself right away,” Mittie said. “I mean, it was huge. You’re talking about one of the best players in the country … it’s hard to play [without Lee]. It’s hard to find offense and you saw us in previous games struggle to find offense.”

Lee was excited to get back on the floor and get the win.

“I felt really good,” Lee said. “We knew we had to hit first and go in there aggressive. We wanted to stick to our game plan and not worry about what they were going to do. We knew it started on defense — just do what we said we were going to do.”

The Wildcat defense proved effective against the previously unbeaten Jackrabbits, snagging seven steals and tallying four blocks on the night. SDSU, which is known for its hot-shooting from beyond the arc (40 percent on the year), shot just 6-29 (20.7 percent). SDSU also committed 16 total turnovers on the night.

K-State also returned freshman back-up point guard Jada Moore on Thursday, who missed time because of an injury. The Wildcats saw significant improvements on offense with those two back on the floor — opening up more opportunities for ball movement and cutting on the court.

“Tonight, when you talk about spacing, our rhythm and timing was much better,” Mittie said. “I think one, we know we haven’t been very good. They’ve come into practice, they were good yesterday in practice even though the day before was a disappointment. I think the confidence of getting Ayoka back, forcing the defense to have to rotate differently gives us some freedom to move the ball and take some pressure off of all of our players.”

The Wildcat offense was crisp and on display right from the tip. K-State shot 43 percent from the field and knocked down seven three-pointers. For the first time this season, three players reached double-figures in points with Lee and junior guards Christianna Carr (12) and Rachel Ranke (10).

Moore finished with two points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 23 minutes off the bench.

K-State’s assists numbers also bloomed with 18 total — led by Carr and sophomore Emilee Ebert who had five assists each.

Lee said she was pleased with the way the team’s chemistry was on display against the Jackrabbits.

“It just goes back to sticking to the scout,” Lee said. “We knew we could get in inside because of their size, their post defense wasn’t that great. We knew the guards would get more shots once we got it inside, once we got that movement.”

K-State looks to build a winning streak in their third game in five days on Saturday at home against Omaha. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m.at Bramlage Coliseum. It will be broadcasted on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. The radio call will be through K-State Sports Network.