There’s a big difference between being 2-2 or 1-3 in the Big 12 logjam right now, especially with No. 1 Baylor coming to town Wednesday.
Unfortunately for Kansas State, it’s the latter, as West Virginia held on in the final eight minutes Saturday to defeat the Wildcats 66-52 at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State freshman Bri Craig tied the game at 45 with 8:21 to play on her fourth 3-pointer of the game. After that it was all Mountaineers, who used a decisive 15-2 run over the next six minutes to take control and rally from an early deficit for the win.
The Wildcats, who have now lost two straight, fell to 10-6 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12. West Virginia improved to 10-5 and 2-2 in front of the 6,778 in attendance for the annual “Pack the House” day at Bramlage.
“I think we did a fairly good job of being competitive until the seven-minute mark of the second half, and then the dam broke,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “When it broke, it was sort of like a tsunami and we were caught up in a wave.
“For us, the things that made the game difficult for us is when we did not match their rebounding and we turned the ball over… A lot of those turnovers were just easy run-out layups for West Virginia.”
Christal Caldwell keyed the Mountaineers’ late run by scoring eight of her team-high 19 points. Ayana Dunning did the rest, using her 6-foot-3 frame to control the inside for easy looks at the basket.
K-State didn’t have an answer, as Brittany Chambers scored the Wildcats’ final seven points after the damage had been done. The senior finished with a game-high 20 points, while Craig scored 12 points. Haley Texada added 10.
The Wildcats, who shot 40 percent from the field, were dominated on the glass 41-26 and turned the ball over 22 times. In the final eight minutes alone, K-State was just 1 for 6 with fives giveaways.
“We made stupid mistakes, stupid turnovers and we got soft on rebounding,” said Chambers, who finished 6 of 17 from the field. “They were getting second and third chances… We were battling more the first 10 minutes and the second 10 minutes we didn’t play quite as hard up to the speed that we needed to, and against a team like West Virginia, they’re going to take advantage of anything you don’t do.”
West Virginia erased a slim one-point halftime lead for K-State when it scored the first five points of the second half to lead 27-23. The Wildcats, who led by as many as seven in the first half, answered with a 3-pointer from Texada and then tied the game at 29 on a trey from Craig.
Dunning then stepped out and knocked down a 3 of her own to give the lead back to the Mountaineers. It was short-lived, though, because Craig followed with her third 3-pointer of the game to ignite a 7-0 surge by the Wildcats to move ahead 36-32 with 13:54 to play.
But again, the Mountaineers responded when Jess Harlee scored on consecutive layups to tie it at 36. Both teams traded baskets until West Virginia went ahead 42-39 on a pair of free throws with 9:49 remaining.
Texada, who was 4 for 9 from the field, tied the game with her second 3-pointer of the day, but the Mountaineers answered with a 3 from Caldwell to make it 45-42 with 9:17 to play. K-State never led again.
K-State will now turn its attention to the defending national champions, as the Wildcats welcome the top-ranked Bears to town for a game Wednesday night at 7. The Wildcats will be trying to avoid a 1-4 start in league play before going back on the road next Saturday to face TCU.
“Right now, in the Big 12 there is one team really setting themselves apart from everyone else, and everyone else is in a pool together and it’s going to take whoever is the toughest to get to the top of the Big 12,” Chambers said. “It’s there for anyone to grab, for the rest of the nine teams.”