In-state rivalries tend to add a little spark to fan bases, and Wednesday’s matchup between the No. 25 Kansas State women’s basketball team and Kansas was no different.
“I think that in the state you know that in every sport, it’s such a big deal, and it’s been fun to be in the state and be a part of it,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said.
Despite struggling at times, K-State (13-4, 3-2 Big 12) walked away with the 73-60 win, the Wildcats’ sixth-straight victory over the Jayhawks (6-10, 0-5 Big 12).
“There were stretches where I thought we played great, and there were stretches where I thought we played awful,” Mittie said. “What I’d really like to do is get a higher level of consistency right now.”
K-State wasted no time, scoring 16 unanswered points in the first three and a half minutes. Kansas finally got on the board when Kylee Kopatich hit a wide-open 3. Kansas’ leading scorer, Jessica Washington followed it up with a trey of her own on the next possession.
Washington finished with 31 points, including seven 3-pointers on 10-of-14 shooting. She also led the Jayhawks with six rebounds. Kopatich finished in double figures with 11 points.
“Whenever you start off 16-0, or whatever it was, that’s what you want, and you’d like to keep it and keep building on that lead,” senior guard Kindred Wesemann said. “There were spots in the game that definitely lived up to what I was wanting it to be, but there were definitely times where we weren’t as good as we needed to be, and yeah, we’ve definitely got to work on those things.”
Mittie added that Washington’s performance was “fantastic.”
“Tonight, she was very efficient,” he said. “That’s the most efficient game I’ve seen her have, certainly in league play, it definitely is.”
Bre Lewis was all over the glass, pulling down seven rebounds — all offensive boards — in the first quarter alone and 10 on the night. She finished with 15 points to lead the Wildcats and round out a double-double.
Wesemann finished with 12 points and Karyla Middlebrook filled out her stat line with 11 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Mittie was happy with his junior point guard’s assist total and that she only turned the ball over twice.
“Karyla gave us a great presence out there,” he said. “She was able to get to the free-throw line, she was able to push tempo, those things were very good for us.”
Middlebrook thinks her recent success is because she is playing more relaxed.
“I think I’m just playing a little more free-minded,” she said. “I was putting a lot of pressure on myself early, just trying to fit in and not necessarily be me, and I just found a way to be myself within this program, and it’s just starting to pay off.”
K-State slowed down substantially in the second quarter, though. Wesemann and Lewis had to sit for extended periods because of foul trouble, and Mittie wasn’t satisfied with how the bench performed.
“I think Kaylee Page has continued to play well,” Mittie said. “Eternati (Willock) was not very good early, played better when she came back in the second round. (Kayla) Goth … she just struggled a little bit with the shot right now. The bench is sporadic, just like we saw.”
Page recorded eight points, including two 3-pointers.
The Wildcats didn’t score until a Middlebrook layup and free throw about three minutes into the period. The Jayhawks went on a 6-0 run to close the gap to nine points and went into halftime trailing by just seven. Kansas outrebounded K-State, 10-8, in the second quarter and outscored the Wildcats, 17-11.
Wesemann said the team was frustrated in the locker room during the break.
“That was the first thing that we said when we got in there, that we have to do things better,” she said. “We were letting our offensive struggles get to us on defense, and we weren’t giving our full effort on defense.”
Lewis added that the team talked about coming out like they did in the first quarter.
And they did. K-State came out strong after the break, nearly mirroring the first quarter with a 14-3 run to open the second half.
The defense got to work, holding the Jayhawks scoreless for minutes at a time while K-State’s lead grew as high as 21 points.
K-State didn’t record a field goal for the last 3 minutes and 18 seconds and allowed Kansas to get to the free-throw line more.
“If they’re going to shoot a bunch of 3s, we’ve got to make sure they don’t get free throws,” Mittie said. “They got a bunch in the last five or six minutes that don’t make me very happy.”
Lewis and Wesemann said it’s important to keep playing hard now that the team has won two conference games in a row.
“It’s been great getting these Big 12 wins because we play in a tough conference, so just keep (playing hard) and keep looking forward to getting a win each game,” Lewis said.
K-State will hit the road on Saturday to face Oklahoma State. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. in Stillwater.