It’s been a frustrating season for the Kansas State women’s basketball team after an 0-10 start to Big 12 Conference play. They took that frustration out on in-state rival Kansas in a 77-66 win in Manhattan without the services of two usual starters.
“Some of the losses we’ve had have been so close and so gut-wrenching,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “I’ve been really proud of the group coming in each day and working hard and trying to do the things to get better. We had players step up today.”
Junior guard Christianna Carr and senior guard Sydney Goodson both sat out of the match due to apparent injury.
The Wildcats came out of the locker room in a suffocating 2-3 zone defense that did not allow KU to score for the first six minutes of the game. They jumped out to a 15-point lead in that stretch and never looked back.
“That’s what we needed right away. Having a strong start, you kind of take that energy into the rest of the game,” sophomore center Ayoka Lee said.
K-State built that suffocating start by trapping the ball at the baseline and forcing KU to make a tough pass out of the trap. KU would push the ball in between the center and wing on the 2-3 zone and they would collapse, pinning them to the baseline.
“We’re supposed to do it every time on the baseline, apparently that hasn’t been noticed,” Mittie said. “That is something we’re supposed to be aggressive in and we just haven’t played it as well. We have played it better the last couple of games so we’re improving in that area.”
K-State held KU to just nine points in each of the first two quarters to take a 39-18 lead into halftime. Then, KU got into a full-court press defense — which has been disastrous at over the Wildcats 10-game losing streak.
The Jayhawk press got to the Wildcats at first. Without Goodson, the Wildcats struggled with turnovers at first. Then, K-State started to get good shots out of the press.
“What we got out of [the press break] was more points than we’ve gotten [in the past],” Mittie said. “We still had some turnovers that are not pretty, but we’re improving. I think our players are getting more confident.”
Mittie blamed a lack of confidence and experience in the press break for some of K-State’s early woes against the full-court trapping defenses earlier in the season.
Down the stretch, KU was making baskets to try to jump start runs, but the Wildcats had an answer. They stretched their lead back to double-digits at the end of the first quarter.
“The answer in the third [gave us confidence],” Mittie said. “When you’ve given up some leads at the end, you gotta go through it. You’re not gonna run away from it. You gotta face those demons a little bit. Proud of our group for doing that today.”
Lee recorded her 25th career double-double with 28 points and 16 rebounds, she also blocked seven shots.
“It’s exciting. I honestly don’t think too much of it,” Lee said of the milestone. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity and to be surrounded by great teammates.”
Sophomore guard Emilee Ebert recorded a career-high 15 points. The Frankfort, Kansas, native added five rebounds, six assists, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots in 37 minutes of play.
“She continues to get better,” Mittie said. “She’s being put in some situations where she’s playing extended minutes against some pretty good people and I think she’s learning every game. What I think she’s done the last three games is just be more aggressive. … If she can stay on this same path, then she’s going to have a really bright future here.”
The Wildcat win was the first win by either basketball team this calendar year and the first conference win for the women.
“It’s a big relief to get a win,” Mittie said.
Up next, they travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to play Oklahoma State on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m.