Kansas State’s (16-5, 6-3 Big 12) defense showed up when the team needed it most at the end of an ugly 63-54 win over TCU (6-11, 2-6) at Bramlage Coliseum Saturday night.
“We really dug deep on a night where we just do not play very well,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “We were out of sync all night long. Just an ugly, tough-to-get-a-rhythm game.”
The Wildcats forced six turnovers in the last four minutes and were on a 9-0 run until TCU’s Lauren Heard hit a buzzer-beater to soften the blow. K-State had dribbled out the shot clock on its prior possession.
“The only thing we did differently the last four minutes is the last 10 seconds of the shot clock we switched one-through-five,” Mittie said. “I thought [Ayoka] Lee was fantastic in that stretch of squeezing, and I thought everybody really reacted.”
Freshman Serena Sundell trickled out into the corner to hit her first basket of the game with 2:47 to play, kick-starting the final run.
“It says a lot about our character for Serena to go 30 some odd minutes and struggle and then bury that corner three and for us to get the ball moved to her and her to have the confidence to do that,” Mittie said. “That’s growth.”
The Wildcats forced a turnover on the ensuing possession and then got a run-out layup, pushing the lead to eight. Two more steals from twin sisters Brylee and Jaelyn Glenn interrupted by free throws gave K-State a big enough lead to ride it out.
“The fans just bring a lot of energy when things like that happen,” Jaelyn said. “It makes us want to get another steal or score again. That energy that they bring lifts up the entire team.”
The Wildcats struggled early when TCU was managing to get the ball into the middle of their 2-3 zone. They would drop the ball in behind the defense for an easy layup when they helped to the strong side.
The answer? K-State dropped out of their 2-3 into man-to-man defense.
“We were giving up some drop-off layups. We were probably a little too aggressive,” Mittie said. “I thought our man [defense] in that stretch was good. That’s why I said, ‘Hey, let’s just go primarily man.'”
The Wildcats also struggled early with feeding junior center Ayoka Lee from outside. The Horned Frogs’ defense hounded the Wildcat guards and tried to prevent the pass from getting in.
Lee still managed 21 points and pulled down seven rebounds despite physical defense from TCU’s centers and missing a couple of minutes with an injury. She was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t get the ball to Lee. Lee was struggling a little bit with the physicality. She took a really hard fall,” Mittie said.
Those issues — along with allowing TCU to shoot over 53 percent in the first quarter — gave TCU a four-point lead at the initial quarter break. K-State powered past them in the second quarter and regained the lead with a minute and a half to go in the half.
“They were getting a lot of good stuff when they had 18 in that first quarter, so we decided to stick to man-to-man, and I thought our man-to-man was really good,” Mittie said.
K-State built its lead to a game-high 12 points in the third quarter and once again right at the end of the game.
Brylee and Jaelyn Glenn scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, rounding out the Wildcats in double-figures.
“The ones — as a coach — you really relish is when your team really sticks together in tough times and just finds a way,” Mittie said. “You can’t explain it.”
Up next for K-State is a trip to No. 13 Iowa State in Ames, Iowa — an opportunity for K-State to get revenge after collapsing late in a home loss to the Cyclones earlier this month. The game will tip at 6:30 on Wednesday night on ESPN+.