The Kansas State women’s basketball team season ended about as expected based on seeding: a loss to top-seed NC State Wolfpack in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats, who had faded late in the season, found their way into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019 and the fourth time under head coach Jeff Mittie.
The eight vs. nine game is typically a death sentence in the women’s tournament: the last time a one seed failed to win that game and reach the second weekend was Duke in 2009.
Midway through the season, though, K-State looked like it would avoid that second-round death knell. In fact, when the NCAA Tournament Committee released their initial top 16 teams, K-State was on the list. That would translate to a four seed and, more importantly, hosting a regional.
First of all, K-State was buoyed in the NET Rankings by a tough early-season schedule. Early road battles against top-five South Carolina and NC State, as well as a home win against a ranked Oregon, helped K-State’s early rankings.
K-State also beat a ranked Baylor in its Big 12 opener. The Wildcats caught the typically-dominant Bears at a good time in their schedule and played perhaps their best game of the year to make the Wildcats truly look like a top-16 team.
The second issue was that the Wildcat offense, which had focused on getting the ball to junior center Ayoka Lee, began to get figured out after that. Teams with size and depth were able to essentially eliminate the Wildcats’ best player for long stretches of games.
The Texas Tech loss on Jan. 15 seemed to be a turning point for the Wildcats’ season. They were held to just 45 points on the road when the Red Raiders committed a pair of defenders to Lee at all times and used on-ball pressure to make the entry pass nearly impossible.
Lee was held to just 12 points, and K-State’s inability to hit three-point shots (23 percent) allowed the Red Raiders to continue to commit so many resources to Lee.
The Wildcats righted the ship after that, winning four of their next six games — including Lee’s record-breaking 61-point performance in a blowout against Oklahoma and a close home win against Kansas.
K-State never really got its three-point shot back, though. The Wildcats lost in Lawrence thanks to a 1-22 three-point shooting performance and lost in double overtime to West Virginia when they scored just two points in the final overtime period. They shot 4-24 from three in that game.
They fell from looking like a Big 12 Title contender to a .500 league record and sixth-place finish. They had also tumbled from a four-seed to a nine-seed according to bracketologists.
Despite the disappointment of the final stretch of the regular season, an NCAA Tournament win and Round of 32 finish is a solid finish for a team so young, and provides a great foundation for Mittie to build from.
Nathan Enserro is the Collegian’s assistant sports editor and a graduate student in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to email@example.com.