Women’s basketball overcomes rough first half in NCAA Tournament win over Washington State

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Senior Ayoka Lee goes up with the ball for a layup during the game on Feb. 23, 2022, against Texas. (Archive photo by Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie adjusted both sides of the ball at halftime to overcome a bad first half on the way to a 50-40 win over eight-seed Washington State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats came out of the gate ice cold. They shot just 1-12 in the first quarter and struggled to get the ball into the post, where they have had the most success on offense.

“That’s been a little bit of the maturing of our team,” Mittie said. “I think that’s something that this team has learned: not to tie our defense to our offense. I think we’re moving on because of that. We obviously don’t win this game because we’re sharp offensively.”

The Cougars were not much better on offense, only managing nine points on an abysmal 3-12 shooting performance. The teams split 12 turnovers in the quarter as the offenses struggled to find themselves.

“Two really good defensive teams. I think we each had something to do with the struggles early in this game,” Mittie said.

Washington State took a page from the playbook of K-State’s Big 12 opponents and sandwiched junior center Ayoka Lee on defense. The lone Wildcat that Washington State left open could not make them pay for not guarding her.

“We struggled getting the ball to Lee, and she struggled finishing early in this game, but we kept the course,” Mittie said. “We kept our focus.”

Things opened up on offense a little more in the second quarter, but K-State still struggled to get the ball to Lee and make open shots. The Wildcats went into the locker room down 24-17 after shooting only 21 percent.

“We try not to dwell on what we’re doing bad but stay confident and maintain composure so that coming into the third quarter, we do what needs to be done,” freshman guard Brylee Glenn said of the halftime locker room.

K-State came out of the locker room a different animal, finding Lee on its first possession. She got a pair at the line and then Brylee Glenn took over.

“In the first half, we saw that there were two people there, so we might have shied away from passing the ball in,” Glenn said. “Coming out in the third quarter, we did put a big emphasis on looking at her more and seeing those small windows.”

She scored seven points during a 10-0 run that lasted three minutes and put K-State back in front for the first time since an early 5-3 lead. K-State would take a two-point lead into the final stanza after outscoring WSU 18-9 in the third.

It was all Wildcats from there where they found their way to the free-throw line repeatedly and made some big shots. Brylee Glenn would ice away any hope of a comeback for Washington State with a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 10 inside of a minute.

K-State was 19-22 from the line and used its aggressiveness in the second half to force the Cougars into foul trouble.

“We got into foul trouble and had to go small a little bit. Fouls really mounted up for our two bigs,” Washington State head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “I thought they got to the free-throw line before the bonus, and that’s how they scored a lot of their points.”

Ethridge spent 18 years at K-State as an assistant coach under Deb Patterson — who now serves as the Cougars director of basketball operations. Former Wildcat Laurie Koehn is also on staff at WSU.

K-State’s ability to make shots in the second half also opened things up for Lee. After scoring just six points in the first half, she finished the day with 20 points and 15 rebounds. She played for 39 minutes.

“[We] tried to put a better shooting line-up out there where they had to stretch a little bit and give us a little bigger windows,” Mittie said. “The other adjustment that we tried to make was to be a little more middle-of-the-floor with our entries.”

The Wildcats also stuck a little more to their 2-3 zone defense in the second half, forcing WSU to settle for three-point shots. They shot just 3-22 from outside. Neither team scored a FG in the final four minutes.

“We knew that they were really good spot shooters, so I think coming into this game we do play a lot of zone, so the emphasis was to not let them get super wide-open threes,” Glenn said. “As the game kept going on, we kept working better together as we got more confident as a team, so we were about to get those defensive stops.”

On the stat sheet, the difference in the game was the Wildcat’s efficiency with extra possessions.

K-State’s defense converted 18 turnovers into 13 points and nine offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points. The Cougars only managed to score four points off 12 turnovers and five points off 12 offensive rebounds.

K-State will await the winner of No. 1 NC State and No. 16 Longwood on Monday. If NC State wins, K-State will get a second shot at a team that beat them 90-69 early in the regular season.

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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.