Editor’s note: Updated online headline from “‘We can beat any team we play’ Wildcats head into tournament ready to make noise” to “‘We can beat any team we play’: Wildcats head into tournament ready to make noise.”
The Kansas State women’s basketball team faced a series of difficulties this season, starting with the loss of star center Ayoka Lee, and concluding in its descent to the bottom of the Big 12 rankings. Despite its record, the team remains a formidable opponent for any team.
Jeff Mittie, the program’s most successful head coach, has talented players on his team. However, the Wildcats have encountered difficulties due to a young core facing some of the top women’s basketball teams in the Big 12. One of its biggest struggles is falling behind early in games.
“I’m in talking to this team about running through the finish line, and they pushed hard last night to get past that point,” Mittie said after losing 90-86 to No. 16 Oklaoma on March 1 in a near comeback. “In past games, we have felt like we’d gotten there, and we’d exerted a lot of energy but we didn’t understand how hard we needed to push through that.”
The Wildcats were able to fight back from a 22-point deficit against the Sooners, including gaining the lead with under a minute left in regulation. In the closing seconds of the game, Oklahoma managed to score, leading to overtime where the Sooners ultimately emerged victorious.
“I think our team knows we can come back but, you know, when you walk out of there disappointed like we did, you just got to go to the next game and convince yourself the next time we’re gonna push through and finish,” Mittie said.
Many losses in K-State’s season have come down to close second-half games. With each loss the team builds more experience and chemistry.
The young Wildcat core continues to grow behind the veteran presence of guard Gabby Gregory. Gregory is a crucial piece to the Wildcat offense and has found chemistry with many young players; one player in particular is sophomore guard Serena Sundell.
“I think that as the year’s gone along, she’s gotten a lot more comfortable in her ability to score the basketball, and I just think that she’s playing her best basketball at the best time,” Gregory said.
Sundell has come alive in the back half of the season, averaging over 20 points in the last seven games. Alongside Gregory, Sundell will be a player for opposing teams to watch.
“I’ve told her she’s got to stay aggressive,” Mittie said. “We were having this conversation the other day on the floor. She struggled with her 3-point shot, and she was turning some shots down and I said, ‘You have to make the right play.’”
Concentration is key to the Wildcats’ success in the Big 12 Tournament as they plan to finish off on the right foot. The journey starts against Texas Tech in the opening round at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, where K-State finds themselves as underdogs.
“Just one game at a time, however, the standings and whatever game we’re putting first,” Gregory said. “The good thing about it is that you played everybody twice already. So just going into it and knowing that we can beat any team we play. It doesn’t matter who it is.”