One play there, another there, and this game could have been different.
But for the second time in a week, the Kansas State women’s basketball team was left trying to figure out what went wrong and how another second-half lead could slip away.
The Wildcats had their chances to put Texas Tech away. Then after falling behind, K-State had more chances to tie the game, take the lead and win it at the end.
Yet, neither happened and the Lady Raiders hung on for a 64-63 victory over the Wildcats in the regular season finale on Saturday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
“Free throws, not stopping drives, little mess-ups on defense, turnovers on offense — just one adjustment or if just one of those things was different, a free throw was made — the game is tied and we’re in overtime, hopefully,” senior forward Jalana Childs said.
With the loss, K-State slipped to fifth in the Big 12, while Iowa State locked down the fourth spot — even after losing at Baylor on Saturday — as the Cyclones own the tiebreaker over the Wildcats with the season sweep.
K-State led Texas Tech by as many as 17 points in the first half and by six at halftime, 36-30.
But a 14-2 Texas Tech run to open the second half erased all the good fortunes of the first half and put the Wildcats in catch-up mode the rest of the game.
“This was a game of spurts and in the beginning of the second half we continued our run of empty possessions offensively,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “As Tech got aggressive and increased their intensity, we fed off the lack of energy we were bringing on the offensive end and our defense got passive.”
The Wildcats trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but fought back — sparked by two 3-pointers from Brittany Chambers and Mariah White — as K-State got within four with 6:20 to play.
Tech (18-12, 6-12) answered and charged ahead 63-54 with 4 minutes left on a basket from Kierra Mallard, who finished with 15 points.
But the Lady Raiders’ lead wasn’t safe yet, as K-State (18-12, 9-9) had one more run left in the tank.
Senior forward Branshea Brown started things off with a jumper from the left side to pull K-State within seven. After a stop at the other end, Childs made the front half of two free throws to get within six with 3:15 to play.
Then after Tech’s Shauntal Nobles made 1-of-2 at the line, Brown cut the deficit to five at 64-59 with 2:28 remaining. After trading the next two possessions, Childs was fouled and went to the line where she made both shots with 55 seconds to play, pulling K-State within three.
Tech’s Casey Morris then misfired on the other end with 33 seconds to go, giving the ball back to the Wildcats. After working the ball around the perimeter with no open 3, Childs received a pass in the paint, put a shot up that rolled around the rim and then out. But Childs was fouled on the shot with 10 seconds remaining. With a game-high 22 points, Childs went to the line and buried both free throws to get K-State within one.
K-State fouled immediately on the inbounds pass, sending Monique Smalls to the line for a one-and-one with 9 seconds left. The Tech point guard missed the shot, however, and it was rebounded by Tasha Dickey. The senior guard pushed the ball across mid-court and found Chambers streaking toward the basket wide open, but the pass sailed over Chambers’ head and out of bounds with 4.8 seconds left.
Again, forced to foul immediately, K-State sent Tech back to the line. And again, the Lady Raiders couldn’t put the Cats away. Brown hauled down the missed free throw and got the ball into Chambers’ hands, who dashed across mid-court with time running down. But her desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was off target and late — handing the Wildcats their third straight loss to end the regular season.
“We really have to learn from this game,” said Childs, who was 6-of-13 from the field, including 10-of-13 from the foul line. “We had it in our hands and we let it slip away with our mental mishaps.”
Texas Tech shot 56 percent from the field in the second half — including 10-of-13 from the field to open the half. It was a second half nearly completely dominated by the Lady Raiders, who outrebounded the Wildcats 21-12 in the 20 minutes and 37-26 overall.
“Coach (Kristy) Curry always says that it’s a game of runs and whoever sustains the longest run,” Texas Tech senior forward Jordan Barncastle said. “We were able to do that tonight. We hit some big shots and made some big defensive plays.”
K-State, meanwhile, missed 10 of its first 13 shots of the half before making its comeback that proved to be too little, too late. For the game, the Wildcats shot 46 percent from the field and just 11-of-19 from the free throw line, while turning the ball over 14 times.
“It took us the better part of the second half to get consistently attack-oriented and back to where we were making productive trips,” Patterson said. “You can only hold on so long if your defense goes soft.”
K-State’s loss to Tech was much like last Saturday’s setback at Missouri when the Wildcats let a late seven-point lead disappear, only to fall in overtime. Much of the Wildcats’ problems were self-inflicted — including missed free throws and careless turnovers — mistakes that disappoint Chambers the most as K-State tries to hold onto its NCAA tournament hopes.
“This is the end of the year and it’s upsetting to me that I made the stupid mistakes I did, and that our team made the stupid mistakes that we did,” said Chambers, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. “They shouldn’t be happening right now.”
The Wildcats now have to get ready for the Big 12 tournament and their third meeting with Iowa State. K-State, the No. 5-seed, will play the fourth-seeded Cyclones at 11 a.m. on Thursday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, with the winner likely meeting No. 1-ranked Baylor in the next round.
Childs said the goal right now is simple.
“We have to put this game in the past and learn from it,” she said.