Six games into the Big 12 schedule, Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie has a pretty good handle on what his team does best and where it still needs to improve.
Facing one of the league’s top scoring offenses, the Wildcats played to their strengths and got it done on defense, holding off a fourth-quarter rally by TCU and winning 58-49 Saturday night at Bramlage Coliseum in front of 7,525 fans on “Pack the House” night.
Mittie said the defensive performance was one of his team’s best of the season.
Kansas State’s Bre Lewis shoots over a TCU defender on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum. Lewis had 25 points.
“I think so, because the opponent is a very good offensive team and they’re one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the Big 12,” he said. “I think they’re No. 1 actually, right now. So we knew we had our hands full. We kept trying to get our group to get their shooters inside the arc, into all our size. And they still hit some tough floaters. “(AJ) Alix hit that tough floater to cut it to three, but all in all, our group really took the game plan and really did a nice job.”
K-State (12-5, 2-4 Big 12) led the entire game, but allowed the Horned Frogs to trim a 15-point third-quarter deficit to just seven by the end of the period.
The run continued in the fourth, with TCU (11-6, 3-3) cutting the lead three points at 48-45 on a basket by Alix with 4:56 to play.
But K-State locked down defensively from there, outscoring the Horned Frogs 10-4 and holding TCU to 2-of-12 shooting the rest of the way, despite only making 8 of 13 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
“I kept telling them about poise, and for the most part I think we did a decent job of that,” Mittie said. “When they cut it to three, I think we did an excellent job of getting the ball inside and sticking to our offense. That, to me, was the key to the game. When they made their run back at us, we kept our poise and were able to get the ball where we wanted to.”
Offensively, K-State had an obvious plan to get the ball to Bre Lewis as much as possible. The junior finished with 25 points and nine rebounds on 12-of-19 shooting. No other player scored in double figures for K-State, though Megan Deines had eight points.
“My team looks to go to me every time, so they did a great job of getting me the ball,” Lewis said. “I tried to do my best and execute and finish, and it happened most of the time.”
Mittie said he was pleased with the K-State’s methodical approach to the offensive side of the ball Saturday.
“I felt like offensively, we had to play at a tempo we were comfortable playing,” he said. “The first time we played them, the tempo got away from us. Tonight we were able to mix it to where we would attack, but we would also slow things down and were able to take advantage of our size.”
TCU got 13 points from Alix in the loss, with Toree Thompson and Zahna Medley each scoring eight. Medley had 27 points in the first matchup between these two schools earlier this season in an 87-73 TCU win.
Deines drew the defensive assignment on Medley most of the night.
“(Medley) can drive it, she can shoot it, so what coach wanted was for her to not catch the ball at all,” Deines said. “So literally my only job was for her to not catch the ball. It feels great to know she couldn’t do what she’s really good at and to help my team.”
As well as K-State played defensively to end the game, the Wildcats were even better in the first half.
They held the Horned Frogs to just 14 points on 6-of-28 (21 percent) shooting in the opening half, while taking a 27-14 lead to the break.
K-State jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead in the first quarter and finishing the period up 13-7.
In the second quarter, the Wildcats took their 13-point halftime lead on a 3-pointer by Riley native Kelly Thomson with 3:06 to play, forcing a TCU timeout.
Both teams went cold to close the half, though, with neither team scoring again before the break.
The Horned Frogs’ scoring drought before halftime spanned seven minutes.
K-State had its largest lead of the game at 29-14 when Deines stole TCU’s first inbound to begin the half and went the other way for an easy layup.
“It was a big run, but having said that, they’re such an explosive offensive team, 15 doesn’t really feel like that much,” Mittie said. “I knew that we were going to have to grind through the game and I really did feel like they would make a run at it.”
K-State travels to Lawrence to face Kansas on Wednesday, tipping off at 7 p.m.