The Kansas State women’s basketball team built a 16-point lead in the first half against Kansas on Friday night to open the Big 12 Championship, but the Wildcats couldn’t survive a second-half rally by the Jayhawks that sent the game into overtime, losing 87-84 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
It was just 10 days ago the Wildcats owned an early 21-point lead in Lawrence and held on down the stretch for the victory.
That wouldn’t be the case on Friday, however, as the Wildcats let a six-point overtime lead disappear to end the season with a three-game losing streak.
Kansas went more than six minutes without a field goal to start the game and K-State took advantage for an early 14-6 lead, while the Wildcats’ Bre Lewis set the tone for a career night, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds in the first eight minutes of the game.
K-State’s 6-foot-5 freshman was one of five Wildcats to finish in double figures totaling 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks — all career highs. Kindred Wesemann also had a big night with a career-high 18 points — including four 3-pointers — while senior Katya Leick scored 17 points in her final game. Freshman Leti Romero had 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, but struggled shooting, making just 4 of 21 from the field. Junior Ashia Woods added 11 points, six rebounds and a Big 12 tournament game-record five steals off the bench.
The Wildcats, who ended the season losing three straight games, turned their early lead into a 26-10 advantage with 7:13 to play in the first half after Wesemann connected on her second straight 3-pointer.
It didn’t last.
The Jayhawks used a 17-4 run in the final 5:18 of the first half to cut the deficit to three at halftime with the Wildcats leading 34-31.
“You know at some point they’re going to make a little bit of a run at you,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “I thought we had a lot of wasted possessions during that period of time…
“They started to get some dribble penetration and most of their points during that time were at the rim… And at the same time, we let that impact our ability to finish shots on the offensive end.”
K-State (11-19) managed to keep the Jayhawks at bay to start the second half after Bri Craig buried a 3-pointer to extend its lead to 51-46 with 10:27 to remaining. But KU had answer with baskets from CeCe Harper and Chelsea Gardner to cut the lead to one at 51-50 inside the final 10 minutes. Harper finished with 20 points.
Again, the Wildcats responded with five points from Leick to push their lead back to three at 56-53 with 7:49 to play.
The Jayhawks (13-18) took their first lead of the game, 57-56, with 7:19 remaining on a layup from Dakota Gonzalez. But Leick came through again when she connected on her fifth 3-pointer of the night to push the Wildcats back in front at 59-57 with less the seven minutes left.
Woods would push K-State’s lead to 69-64 with 2:48 remaining on a steal and layup, but KU answered quickly, tying the game at 69 before Romero hit a jumper to give the Wildcats a 71-69 lead with 1:10 to go in regulation.
KU — which lost to Baylor, 81-47, in the quarterfinals on Saturday — would go back in front by two with less than 10 seconds remaining on a pair of baskets from Gardner, who finished with a game-high 29 points.
K-State then forced overtime when Romero raced down the court, had the ball deflected into the lane where Lewis scooped it up and scored as the buzzer sounded to tie the game at 73. An official review confirmed the score.
The Wildcats looked to control the overtime period — building a six-point lead at 84-78 with 2:11 remaining — but the Jayhawks wouldn’t go away, making all seven free-throw attempts and a layup by Asia Boyd to seal the three-point win. A last-second 3-point attempt by Wesemann came up short.
With that final shot, the Wildcats will miss the postseason for just the second time in the last 13 seasons. Though it wasn’t the season K-State had hoped for, there are several bright spots going forward.
There’s Romero, who was named to the All-Big 12 second team, and Lewis, who had a career night against the Jayhawks. Then there’s Wesemann, who ended her season with five straight games in double figures and a career high against KU.
K-State will return three of Friday night’s starters — all freshmen — while also bringing back key veterans in Woods, Craig and Haley Texada, who missed the last part of the season with a foot injury.
“As we’ve gotten to the second half of the Big 12, Kindred’s confidence and her ability to impact the game and make us better really escalated, so I was really proud of her growth,” Patterson said. “Lewis, she’s in there battling against one of the best post players in our league and I thought she was an absolute warrior, made great plays, defended extremely well with great maturity…
“She was dialed in… You wish we had about 15 more games to play because at that point she might be turning that 20 into 30, which is pretty scary at this point, but also something really exciting to look forward to.”