By Wendell Barnhouse
DALLAS – Defeating a team three times in a season is a challenge. When that team is your rival, it’s a bigger challenge … and a sweeter accomplishment.
No. 8 seed Kansas State pulled away over the final four minutes to defeat No. 9 seed Kansas, 57-49, Friday night in a Sunflower State Showdown in the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Championship. The Wildcats (18-12) will take on top-seeded Baylor at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.
It’s the first time since 2006 and only the second time that K-State has swept KU as members of the Big 12 Conference.
“They're all the same, every single one matters with them, every second we pour our hearts out because it's not only just KU,” K-State’s Haley Texada said. “It's our rival, it's always nice to sweep them anytime we can.”
The final score was similar to the other two outcomes. K-State beat KU 58-52 in Manhattan and 55-48 in Lawrence.
“These games have been grind-it games,” said Jeff Mittie, in his first season as coach of the Wildcats. “They have had many runs to them, they haven't had huge runs because both of us struggle offensively.”
“Struggle” is a kind word for the Jayhawks’ first-half offense. Kansas (15-17) went 7:51 without scoring and 8:33 without a field goal as it struggled to find shots against the K-State zone. The KU band and cheerleaders tried to help but counting down the shot clock doesn’t build confidence.
You could count Kansas’ first-half field goals on one hand … and have three fingers left over. And it’s good to have more shots than field goal attempts … but it’s not good when you there’s only more shot than mistake.
“Honestly, I told them we're probably lucky we're not down 30,” Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said of her halftime message. “I felt like the offensive end affected our toughness and our intensity on the defensive end, which can't happen. If you're not going to score, then you can't let the other guy score either.”
The Jayhawks’ 11-point halftime deficit quickly grew to 17 as K-State’s Breanna Lewis (18 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots) scored on three straight possessions in the first three minutes of the season half.
Thoughts of a blowout quickly were erased by a sudden reversal in the Jayhawks’ offensive fortunes. After missing their first six 3-pointers in the first half, the lid came off the basket when freshman Lauren Aldridge connected from behind the line with 17:01 left. Threes got KU back in the game as they made eight of their 10 shots from long range.
Aldridge’s 3-pointer with 4:29 remaining gave Kansas a 46-44 lead. But the Wildcats closed with a 13-4 run with nine points coming from the free throw line. K-State, which makes 60.6 percent from the line, was 13-of-14.
Kansas State has asserted itself into NCAA Tournament discussion but is firmly on the bubble. A victory over top-seeded Baylor would be alter some perceptions.
“Yeah, I'm glad to be playing (Saturday), it beats the alternative,” Mittie said. “Baylor's a great basketball team. They have gone through that 18-game gauntlet and been Big 12 champion again, so we know we have our hands full and we've got to play better than we played today and we've got to play better than we played previously, but the beauty of March is you get that opportunity and we're looking forward to it.”