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Wildcats set to face Stanford in round of 32

By Maria McIlwain

Bre Lewis only needed to see one school to know where she was going to go.

“I came on a visit here, and I just fell in love with the environment,” the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native said. “I remember going home and telling my mom, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of purple. There’s a lot of Wildcats everywhere.’ I think I like that because coming from a big city, you see a lot of different sports teams, and to visit a place that’s all about one school, I just fell in love with that.”

Now, the senior center and the rest of the Kansas State women’s basketball team is getting ready to face Stanford on Monday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The game tips off at 5:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

Second-seeded Stanford (29-5) comes in off a come-from-behind 72-64 win against New Mexico State on Saturday. The Cardinal features three players, Erica McCall (14.8), Brittany McPhee (12.8) and Karlie Samuelson (12.8) average in double figures. McCall also leads the team on the glass with 8.8 rebounds per game.

“They’ve got all the pieces: good point guard play, they’ve got good versatility inside, good shooters,” head coach Jeff Mittie said.

Stanford also matches the Wildcats in size. The Cardinal has five players who are at least 6-foot-3, while six Wildcats are at least that tall. Rebounding will be a premium, as 17 percent of the Cardinal’s scoring comes from second-chance points.

Freshman forward Eternati Willock is excited to face players close to her size.

“It’s easier to play taller girls,” she said. “You know how to get around them, and they’re a bit slower than when you have to play the short, fast guards.”

Mittie said putting together a tall team wasn’t an accident.

“It’s been intentional for us to get size as much as we could at the three, four and five spot,” Mittie said. “It took a while to get the size at those spots, but finally, our roster has that size across the board better.”

Mittie contacted Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer when he arrived K-State, where the 6-foot-5 Lewis was then a rising sophomore. He wanted to ask about the triangle offense, which VanDerveer had used for years.

“The first question she asked was, ‘Do you have a center?’” Mittie said. “I said, ‘I think so. I think she’s got a ton of potential, and as a sophomore, I want to run things through her and grow her up that way.’”

That potential paid off. Lewis owns the K-State record for career blocks (281) and is an integral part of the Wildcats’ offense, averaging 14 points per game. Fellow senior Kindred Wesemann also averages 14 points per game.

Mittie feels his team’s maturity has allowed it to embrace all aspects of basketball on and off the court.

“We constantly talk about respecting the game and respecting the process and getting better, and as they’ve seen success with that, I think that fuels that they understand there was a reason they played well,” Mittie said. “There was a preparation that went into that, and as your team sees success, you hope they even grow further in that, and that’s what I think our group has done.”

Mittie thinks that group of rising sophomores — Wesemann, Lewis, Kelly Thomson, Jessica Sheble and Erica Young — has grown a lot through the years and learned to embrace preparation.

“You have to be a mature player to understand that even though practice starts at 3 p.m. every day, there’s a preparation that goes into that,” Mittie said. “There’s a preparation that goes into having a good practice every day, and there’s a mentality that goes into it throughout the year when you’re dealing with fatigue and bumps and bruises and road trips and all those things.”

The second game is just around the corner, but playing in the NCAA tournament is still surreal for junior point guard Karyla Middlebrook.

“I used to watch it all the time with my parents on the couch, and now that I’m actually here experiencing it, I had the butterflies yesterday because it was my first time,” she said. “I just want to take advantage of the opportunity because not a lot of players get it.”

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