Tasha Dickey has never played in the NCAA tournament. In fact, the Kansas State senior, who played her first three years at the University of Arizona, had never advanced past the first round of a conference tournament until the Wildcats upended Iowa State last Thursday in Kansas City.
Dickey hopes to scratch another “to-do” off her bucket list tonight when the Wildcats learn of their NCAA tournament fate, announced on ESPN at 6 p.m.
“I’ve never been, so I’ll be excited, giddy and a little nervous,” Dickey said following the Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship semifinals on Friday. “I’m but ready to do it. It will be a great experience, to forever be able to tell your kids about.”
K-State, which appeared to be backing into the NCAA tournament field just last week after three straight losses to end the regular season, seems to have found new life during the Big 12 tournament.
The Wildcats, after all, knocked off Iowa State in a barnburner Thursday, defeating a team that had won the previous two meetings this season. Then K-State faced No. 1 Baylor for the third time this season. And though the Wildcats lost, nobody was hanging their head after losing to the best team in the country, which is sure to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
“We’ve grown as a team this past week,” said Jalana Childs, who scored a career-high 31 points in the win over the Cyclones. “We figured out who we are again and we learned how to fight again. The win against Iowa State, it was obvious that we were fighting the entire game. And against Baylor, with a couple lapses, we fought to the end. With mistakes or without mistakes, we fought, and I’m proud of that.”
Dickey said the win over Iowa State changed everything for this team.
“It’s always better to get a win, for sure,” she said. “We had lost three in a row, got a big win against Iowa State and then went against Baylor — the number one team in the country. We got our fight back and our will to compete back. That’s a real positive going into the NCAA tournament.”
But where will the Wildcats fall when the field is announced? They’ve been as projected as high as a No. 5 seed a little more than two weeks ago. Then during the losing skid K-State slipped to a possible No. 9 seed, according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
Creme doesn’t know for sure where the Wildcats will land, but what is known is that K-State (19-13) has played the type of schedule this season worthy of serious NCAA consideration. The Wildcats, who had an RPI of 17 as of Sunday, played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country.
The Wildcats have key wins this season against BYU, Marist, South Dakota State, Iowa State, Texas A&M and two against Texas — six teams that are considered in the elite field. BYU, Marist and South Dakota State are automatic qualifiers because they won their conference tournaments.
K-State has only two bad losses (UNLV and Missouri), but faced other NCAA teams in Baylor, Oklahoma and Purdue, which won the Big Ten tournament. Kansas and Oklahoma State, a pair of teams the Wildcats swept this season, are bubble teams, according to Creme.
“We’ve played the best in the country three times and the defending national champions in Texas A&M twice,” K-State junior Brittany Chambers said. “We played the very best every night. Our nonconference got us ready for the conference and our conference got us ready for the NCAA tournament. We’re not going to see anything harder than what we just faced against Baylor.”
K-State point guard Mariah White said playing the tough schedule this season showed the Wildcats how difficult it is to compete for wins every night. And yet the Wildcats finished with 19 wins and tied for fourth in the Big 12, the No. 1 RPI conference in the country.
“Playing A&M, Baylor, OU, we know what tough competition is and what it’s like to compete,” she said. “We have a lot of fight in us. We showed that this week. We may not have the best record out there, but we’ve played the best teams. We’ve had to fight for everything this year.”