When Kansas State’s women’s basketball team (8-17) faded late against Oklahoma Sunday afternoon, it doomed itself to a last-place finish in the Big 12 and a date with seventh-seed Texas Tech to start the Big 12 Conference tournament.
The Big 12 tiebreaker gave in-state rival Kansas an edge over K-State because the Jayhawks — who also have three conference wins — beat Oklahoma, who finished higher than K-State’s best win: the same Texas Tech team it will meet in Kansas City.
The Wildcats faced Texas Tech twice this year, which includes an overtime loss in Lubbock, Texas, and a seven-point win in Manhattan.
In both battles, K-State held significant second-half leads but fumbled them away late, as has been the case for the Wildcats often this season.
The difference for the game in Manhattan? The team seemed more confident when the Red Raiders launched its comeback and played better down the stretch.
“We gave up a big lead tonight, but we didn’t give in to that and we made some plays down the stretch and that should give us confidence going forward,” head coach Jeff Mittie said after that game.
In Lubbock, K-State started to fall apart when sophomore center Ayoka Lee fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, leading to a 10-0 run for the Red Raiders to finish out the quarter. Texas Tech then had an advantage in overtime, outscoring K-State, 12-4.
Looking ahead to the third game of the series, Lee staying out of foul trouble is a key to staying in the game. She is an important rim protector on defense and the key to the Wildcats’ entire offense
Mittie said after the collapse in Lubbock, her missing significant time caused junior guard Christianna Carr — the team’s other go-to scorer — to pressure too much. The Wildcats need Lee or Carr on the court for almost the entire game to keep up, and without Lee, that means too many minutes for Carr.
“Chrissy had a good stretch in that time in the second quarter and then I think fatigue got on Chrissy a little bit,” Mittie said after the game. “That changes the moves to the hole, that changes the lift on the jump shot, all those things. She played 42 minutes, she’s in her 36th, 37th minute down that stretch. I think fatigue got to her a little bit.”
The Wildcats will also need an answer for Red Raiders senior guard Vivian Gray, who averages 20 points a game.
More generally, K-State will need to keep the Red Raider’s guards in front of them on defense. As a team, Texas Tech isn’t amazing beyond the three-point line, but its guards still drive the offensive output.
The good thing about dropping to the ten-seed?
If K-State gets through Texas Tech, it has a beatable West Virginia team awaiting next in line instead of No. 6 Baylor.
The rubber-match is tentatively scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium on ESPN+. The real start time will depend on when Kansas and TCU conclude their match-up.