Having not played a game in 30 days, it’s safe to say the Kansas State women’s basketball team was anything but rusty throughout the first three-quarters of their game against West Virginia on Wednesday night — but it was the final three minutes that changed all of that. Holding the largest lead of the game (12 points) with just about three minutes to play, K-State (5-5, 0-3 Big 12) allowed the Mountaineers (11-2, 5-2 Big 12) to finish the game on a 21-0 run en route to a 65-56 defeat.
A big part of that final run was the West Virginia press that K-State just could not beat — the Mountaineers forced eight turnovers in the final three minutes. The turnover bug was a massive issue throughout the entire game as the Wildcats gave the ball away 29 times, leading to 36 West Virginia points.
“We threw it to them underneath a bunch, we did not handle their press well and made some mistakes,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “We look like we had a group on the floor that just wasn’t going to get the basketball very confidently … that’s an area we’ve got to improve.”
To make matters even worse, Mittie was awarded a technical for arguing with the officials in the final seconds of the game, leading to him being ejected. After the game, Mittie explained that his frustrations were due to a lack of fouls that West Virginia had received throughout the game.
“That was a continual situation where apparently in my 30 day time away from the game, West Virginia doesn’t foul anymore,” Mittie said. “Zero fouls in the fourth, so obviously I was concerned. It felt like there was some opportunities there for us.”
Even with just nine players available after spending the past month without any game action, the Wildcats still performed very well on the offensive end. Shooting 49 percent from the field (20-of-41) and 47 percent from three (8-of-17).
Sophomore center Ayoka Lee recorded another double-double, netting 16 points and grabbing 12 boards. While junior guard Christianna Carr was on fire from three all night long, all five of her makes came from beyond the arc as she finished with 15 points.
“I thought (Carr) had a really good performance, really good look from three, she had to shoot it for the most part from small windows, really made some tough shots tonight,” Mittie said. “I thought (Lee) battled, it was good to see both of them play well.”
Eight turnovers led to a low scoring outcome in the first quarter for the Wildcats. But while K-State struggled to hang onto the ball, West Virginia was flat out cold from the field, shooting just 15 percent in the first quarter.
Sophomore guard Emilee Ebert shot a three-pointer right before the buzzer — the first of many three’s for the Wildcats in the game, giving K-State a 7-6 lead at the end of the first.
“I think [the first quarter] settled us into the game and it settled us into having a good second quarter,” Mittie said. “We had the game in terms of tempo, in terms of pace, in terms of what we felt like we could attack them, we got things going in the right direction in the second quarter.”
Getting in the right direction in a big way, the Wildcats turned the second quarter into a scoring frenzy, going on a 15-3 run throughout much of the quarter and shooting 50 percent compared to WVU’s 25 percent. A small run by the Mountaineers at the end of the second quarter made it a 26-20 K-State lead going into the break.
A quick 8-3 run extended the Wildcat lead in the third, but both teams gave a small glimpse as to what the finish would look like midway through that same quarter. K-State gave the ball away multiple times, while WVU put together a 10-0 run to get back into the game, making it just a 34-33 Wildcat lead halfway through the third.
K-State managed to break away after the WVU run and got the lead back up to 47-39 going into the fourth. Things were looking good early in the fourth as the Wildcats got their lead up to double digits before disaster struck.
What became a small run for the Mountaineers grew larger and larger by the second as K-State continued to struggle with the WVU press. One turnover turned into eight, and a 7-0 run for the Mountaineers turned into a 21-0 run, and in the blink of an eye, the 12 point lead for K-State turned into a nine point loss.
Having not played since their Dec. 21 loss to No. 22 Texas, having a for sure victory ripped away at the very end was not the way Jeff Mittie and Co. wanted to restart their season.
“There’s not a time in my career where I’ve had a 30-day layoff,” Mittie said. “So to have precedent to it, know what you’re going to deal with, fatigue, all those things. We had the game where we wanted, we had the pace where we wanted, we were executing things very well, offensively we were doing some good things, we just didn’t finish.”
Next up for K-State is an hour and a half drive east to Lawrence on Saturday for this year’s first edition of the Sunflower Showdown against Kansas. Tip-off for Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m. and can be heard on the K-State Sports Network.