The only people happier to see the Kansas women’s basketball team make the NCAA tournament Monday night were perhaps the Wildcats.
Kansas State was short in height and numbers this season, suffering maybe the worst case of injury luck Wildcats’ coach Deb Patterson has even seen within her own program. Despite those limitations, K-State still made the most of it, collecting several key victories along the way during a frustrating season.
Those frustrations led to the Wildcats having to root for the rival Jayhawks on Selection Monday, as dreadful as that sounds for K-State. If KU could find its way into the NCAA’s field of 64, then the Wildcats would get into the Women’s NIT.
“It was nerve-racking, scary seeing if another team would get in,” K-State senior point guard Mariah White said Tuesday. “Once we saw KU called, you’d have thought we won a million dollars or something. We cheered. I hate cheering for KU, but when it comes to the postseason, you really don’t care. As long as we get to keep playing, then it’s all right.”
The K-State players and coaching staff watched the NCAA tournament selection show at the Basketball Training Facility, knowing what had to happen to get into the WNIT.
“It was definitely an unusual feeling cheering for KU at that moment, but that was a special time for us and we knew what had to happen for us to get the opportunity,” Patterson said. “It was a really fun evening for us.”
K-State earned the Big 12’s automatic berth by finishing eighth, ahead of only Texas and TCU, but behind seven other programs that were selected for the NCAA tournament.
“I’m thrilled our league got the respect it deserves,” Patterson said.
The Big 12 was the top RPI conference in America this season — as it is every year — yet only No. 1 Baylor and No. 23 Iowa State were ranked in the Top 25 at season’s end.
“I was a little concerned because it wasn’t being reflected in the polls, but in the end, to see 80 percent of our league in postseason play is really what all expected should happen,” Patterson said.
K-State will host Texas Southern (20-11, 16-2 SWAC) on Thursday night at 7. The winner will play the winner of the Illinois State/IUPUI matchup at a time and date to be determined Friday morning.
This is the Wildcats’ third straight postseason appearance and 11th in the last 12 seasons. It’s K-State’s first WNIT appearance since 2007 when the Wildcats advanced to the semifinals. K-State (15-17, 5-13 Big 12) won the 2006 WNIT.
Senior Brittany Chambers is thankful for the opportunity to keep playing, especially against some different opponents outside the Big 12 that don’t know every tendency, play and move before she makes it, like the top-ranked Bears, who defeated the Wildcats three times.
“Nobody wants to lose at the end to Baylor, so we’re excited to be back playing on our home court playing against a different team,” she said. “Big 12 teams are huge, humongous, fast, good shooters, so you can’t just exploit one thing. It’ll be nice to play teams that are more physically on the level that we’re at right now.”
But getting to this week wasn’t easy for Chambers. Baylor eliminated the Wildcats from the Big 12 Championship on March 9. Since then, it’s only been practicing and waiting to learn of the Wildcats’ postseason fate.
“It was really hard,” she said. “It was hard to stay motivated, especially for me and Mariah, because we weren’t sure if we were really playing for anything. Coach P did a good job of keeping us going, but it kind of felt like we were just practicing to practice. Thank goodness we did and now we have to keep going.”
The chance to extend the season can also prove beneficial for the Wildcats’ younger players, who are getting their first taste of postseason.
“It’s an opportunity to get a lot of extra games fast,” Patterson said. “You have to be physically and emotionally fresh because the games fire away at you really quick.
“It gets them that extra pressure game down the stretch, the added experience, that edge that only tournament play brings to the table. It’s all good — it’s all very valuable, every extra game, every extra practice. For them to be able to be a part of the wait — just hoping we’d be selected — I think it impresses upon them just how serious it is to be in postseason play when you’re a program like ours that has such a great tradition of playing after the regular season.”