The Kansas State women’s basketball team recovered from a tough start against the UT Martin Skyhawks to come away with a 44-30 victory in the first round of the Preseason WNIT at Bramlage Coliseum on Friday night.
“It was kind of a perfect storm for us to struggle,” head coach Jeff Mittie said following the victory. “We get out, we don’t play very well early. Don’t make any shots early. Players lose confidence … I’m really proud of our group. For a young basketball team to play as hard as they played defensively while virtually the whole roster is struggling offensively. That says a lot.”
The Skyhawks (0-1) came out of the gate in a packed-in triangle-and-two defense with a pair of forwards guarding junior center Ayoka Lee. Despite her significant height advantage, K-State (2-0) could not seem to get the ball to its big star because of the double-team.
“I think it’s an adjustment that we weren’t ready for, so I think everyone was a little bit frustrated with it,” Lee said. “Coach always makes a point about some nights you’re not going to do well where you want to be doing well, but you have to focus on everything else you can be doing.”
UT Martin built up an early lead by keeping K-State out of the paint. Lee finally got on the board midway through the second quarter to pull the Wildcats within one.
The Wildcats were forced to settle for a lot of early jump shots and uncharacteristic three-pointers while trying to force UT Martin out of its zone. The Wildcats were just 1-of-13 from the three-point arc by halftime.
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“I don’t think we ever really made enough shots where they had to do something different [on defense],” Mittie said.
After struggling, K-State began to make adjustments to open up the offense a little bit. The Wildcats also put the clamps down on UT Martin, only allowing six points in the second quarter, four in the third and seven in the fourth.
“I thought with the timeout they took at the four-minute mark [of the fourth quarter] we might see the 1-3-1 zone that they play because that has a chance to turn teams over a little more,” Mittie said. “They were pretty content to make this a low-possession game.”
With Lee relatively limited, K-State turned to senior Laura Macke, sophomore Rebekah Dallinger, freshman Brylee Glenn and junior Emilee Ebert to share the scoring duties while pinning UT Martin down on the other end of the court. K-State turned UT Martin over 16 times in the second half.
The Wildcats found success late in the game, working the ball to the opposite block and then working the ball across the paint to Lee or taking the open shot when the double team allowed it.
“I think just communicating and taking advantage of the openings,” Lee said. “Which is something I need to be better at communicating with the guards and definitely something to grow in as a team.”
Lee wound up leading K-State with 10 points and nine rebounds. She chipped in three blocked shots in 30 minutes of play despite foul trouble.
Dallinger, a sophomore transfer, finished the night with eight points. She was 3-of-9 shooting and chipped in four rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
“When we’re struggling on offense, our defense really picked up, and that helped me get open looks,” Dallinger said. “We knew we had one open play all the time because [UT Martin] put extra bodies on [Lee], so we knew that we had to be shot-ready when we can and just be aggressive and drive to the basket.”
The Wildcats also allowed just 11 points in the second half and didn’t allow a basket for the last four minutes, but only scored 18 in the second half themselves.
The 30 points K-State allowed were the fewest K-State has allowed in the Mittie era.
After taking down Western Kentucky 76-44 on Sunday, K-State will face North Carolina A&T (0-3) at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. North Carolina A&T fell to Western Kentucky 86-76 on Friday and to UT Martin 58-40 on Sunday.