Wildcats come up short against No. 9 Iowa State

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Junior Ayoka Lee fights for a rebound against Abilene Christian University on Nov. 23, 2021. (Archive photo by Kendall Spencer | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State’s women’s basketball team (13-3, 3-1) led No 9. Iowa State for over 39 minutes on Tuesday evening, but it was the last five seconds that counted. Iowa State banked in a three at that mark to take the lead and salted out a 73-70 win over the Wildcats at Bramlage.

K-State led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but Iowa State — one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country — got hot from behind the arc. The Cyclones hit five threes after that point, and K-State couldn’t keep up.

“When you have a team that can put up the number of threes that they can put up — and they average 11. You know your lead’s not safe,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “They hit some tough shots the last five minutes of the game.”

The bright spot for K-State was that junior center Ayoka Lee broke her own school record for points in a Big 12 game with 38. She also pulled down 11 rebounds for her 40th career double-double.

“She had a great poise to her. She was reading the things that we talked about … yet she wasn’t overthinking it,” Mittie said. “I thought she was fantastic.”

The Wildcats fed Lee early and often with the Cyclones laying back and playing her one-on-one. She had 14 points in the first quarter and 10 in the second to tie the entire Iowa State team at 24 points at halftime.

“It was definitely different than past games,” Lee said. “I think, in my mind, it was just like, ‘I have to go score and make them choose what they want to cover.'”

K-State pinned down the Big 12’s second-highest scoring offense and the nation’s best three-point shooting team by three-pointers made per game for much of the first half by playing good on-ball defense.

“I think [the defense] in the first half was really good. I think in the second half we struggled with letting them get in and around the arc,” Mittie said. “One of the threes [Ashley] Joens hit on Brylee [Glenn], I mean, [Glenn] did everything right. Everything right.”

After taking a 35-24 lead into halftime, the Wildcats surrendered seven straight points to close the gap early in the third quarter.

“I didn’t like our start to the second half. That was problematic. Six-straight points for them. That was not what we talked about in the locker room,” Mittie said. “We’ve come out of locker rooms way better than that.”

Iowa State’s Ashley Joens had a perfect third quarter after struggling in the first half. She was 4-4 for 10 points in the quarter to help get Iowa State back into the game.

“I thought we’d let Joens get into the arc too much early with the dribble, and it’s a play that she’s good at,” Mittie said. “It’s a play that we know she’s good at, but we were on our heels a little bit, and then you saw what she was able to do in the fourth.”

K-State could not quite get back on top of the momentum after Joens’ three just inside of three minutes, cutting the Wildcat lead to two.

Sophomore guard Rebekah Dallinger nailed a three on the next possession — K-State’s last points of the ballgame.

“I thought Dallinger hit a huge three coming out of the timeout. I told her to be ready to shoot it,” Mittie said. “That was a big three. She almost had the one on the side out-of-bounds go about halfway down as well. I liked her confidence.”

The Wildcats missed their last two shots and had the in-bound for their final chance to take a lead bounce out of bounds without being touched.

“I think this thing boils down to — we did not execute as well as we needed to the last five minutes of the game,” Mittie said.

The Wildcats were missing usual starter Emilee Ebert, who also did not play against West Virginia this weekend, forcing Dallinger into her starting role.

Next up for K-State is a weekend trip to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15. The game will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.