K-State rides strong defense past Drake in first round of NCAA tourney

By Maria McIlwain

It wasn’t just another home game for the Kansas State women’s basketball team on Saturday.

The Wildcats (23-10) beat Drake (28-5), 67-54, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Head coach Jeff Mittie was pleased with his team’s defense, as Drake averages just over 83 points per game.

“I thought our defense was outstanding,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “Even when we made mistakes or Drake is just good enough to make you pay if you’re a little late on it, it really wasn’t lack of awareness, it was just that Drake was a little bit better on that play. I thought that our group had a good awareness to them. I thought our group had a good connectivity to our rotiations.”

Bre Lewis led the way for K-State, recording her 21st-career double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds. She was joined in double figures by fellow senior Kindred Wesemann, who finished with 16 points including four 3-pointers.

“I feel like my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball, and just making sure I had a strong post presence was my main focus,” Lewis said. “It paid off.”

Mittie said the program has felt the center’s impact for all four years.

“Bre, in particular, is going to go down as one of the all-time greats here at Kansas State,” Mittie said. “She holds the all-time career shots blocked record, she’s in the top 10 in many categories … when Bre has the post presence she had today, we’re a pretty good basketball team.”

For Drake, Lizzy Wendell finished with 17 points and was joined in double figures by Becca Hittner (13) and Sammie Bachrodt (10).

Peyton Williams put the Wildcats on the board with a layup, but Sammie Bachrodt hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Drake a four-point lead.

That lasted 20 seconds before Kindred Wesemann hit a 3 of her own to spark a 9-0 run.

K-State dominated the glass from the start and outrebounded the Bulldogs, 41-26. Fourteen of those were offensive boards, and the Wildcats recorded 11 second-chance points.

Both teams were sloppy at times, but just seven of K-State’s 19 turnovers came in the second half. The Wildcats forced 17 turnovers and recorded 22 points off turnovers.

“I thought we got them hurried at times, I thought that was critical,” Mittie said. “We’re both mixing things up, we’re trying to confuse each other, but I really thought we were able to take advantage of some of those.”

Drake rattled off seven straight points to make it a two-point game early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs then went scoreless for over three minutes while K-State built its lead back. The Wildcats held Drake without a field goal for over six minutes.

“I think that we have definitely kept our cool,” Wesemann said. “At one point, we were just trading baskets, and we definitely needed to get some stops. I thought we strung together some stops after we made some big plays on the offensive end, whether it be a 3 on a kick-out or the interior passing of our post, that was really great.”

Both teams experienced scoring droughts during the third quarter. Drake made it a three-point game on buckets from Wendell and Cortni Rush, but couldn’t get any closer.

After Drake made it a six-point game, K-State extended its lead to 11 with five unanswered points from Shaelyn Martin and Kaylee Page.

Wesemann hit two of her four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, which electrified Bramlage Coliseum and the team. K-State ended strong on an 8-2 run.

“They have so much confidence in me, whether I miss 10 in a row, they’re just like, ‘Shoot the next one,” Wesemann said. “I just think my team’s confidence in me, my coaches’ confidence in me is what kept me going in that game.”

With the win, the Wildcats move on to the round of 32, where they will face No. 2 seed Stanford (29-5) on Monday. Drake’s loss snaps its 22-game winning streak, which was the second-longest in Division I.

Mittie said his team is ready to play another elite team.

“Our job’s to play good basketball,” Mittie said. “Home, road, lights go out in Bramlage and we’ve got to play in the parking lot, I don’t care. Our job is to play good basketball … if five people show up or 13,000. I hope we have 13,000, but we’ll play either way.”

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