Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie strolled into the interview room about an hour after his team’s 81-52 loss to No. 23 Iowa State. He usually takes questions about 15 minutes after the final buzzer, but on Saturday, he spoke with his team for much longer than normal.
“When you’re in a tough stretch, I think it’s important to have a conversation with them and just make sure that we’re all headed the same direction,” Mittie said. “It can frustrate you and it can be tough, and we’ve got a group that wants to do well. I said a game ago that I’ve got to find a better way to help them, and that was kind of the goal in talking to them longer after the game.”
This matchup had a large, yellow caution sign attached. K-State had struggled offensively, while No. 23 Iowa State had mercilessly ripped through nets all season. Oh, and on Jan. 2, the Cyclones smoked K-State by 38 points to begin conference play.
It wasn’t an ideal time for the Wildcats (13-9, 4-6 Big 12) to play Iowa State again.
K-State’s second try didn’t go much better than the first. Iowa State led by 10 after a quarter, stretched it to 17 by halftime, then to 23 after three quarters. The Wildcats have now lost three in a row, their longest losing streak this year.
One red flag for Mittie entering this game: Iowa State (17-5, 7-3) entered as the eighth-best scoring offense in the country at 82 points per game. K-State, on the other hand, only has scored 80 or more points three times.
“My concern was that if the pace got away from us, they could put up a number we couldn’t get to,” Mittie said.
His fear became reality. Iowa State led by 10 four minutes in and never looked back.
The Cyclones were as advertised. They ran wild, spaced the floor, gunned 29 3-pointers and crashed the glass. They don’t let up, and they didn’t on Saturday.
After the game, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said he didn’t want the game to be played at a slow pace. He estimated his group only ran five or six plays all afternoon, which helped it play more freely against a group that likes to switch between defenses to confuse teams.
“We just wanted to ignore what defense they were running,” he said. “They’re in man, they’re in zone, they’re in man to zone. You overthink that sometimes and we just wanted to create pace and tempo and dribble drive action.”
Iowa State scored 34 points in the first half, then 47 in the second. The Cyclones shot 37 percent in the first half, then upped it to 46 by the final buzzer.
The Cyclones made five 3-pointers in the first half, then came out of the locker room and drilled six in the third quarter. In the first 20 minutes, Iowa State ripped down eight offensive rebounds and turned those into nine second-chance points.
“I think Iowa State runs as a unit really well,” Mittie said. “What I mean by that is you have to defend the whole floor really well against them. It’s not like you can run to the paint against a post player that just runs block to block. They stretch you and you don’t know exactly where their pieces are going to be in transition.”
Iowa State had four players in double figures. K-State held Bridget Carleton, who’s on WNBA mock drafts, to seven points in the first half, but she finished with 19 to lead her team. Ashley Joens scored 16 and nailed four 3-pointers.
Kayla Goth and Peyton Williams had 15 points apiece for K-State, but those two weren’t nearly enough on this day because Iowa State posted a number the Wildcats couldn’t reach.
The Wildcats missed chances to remain within real striking distance. Early in the game, Mittie said he believed his team could have made it a four-point game instead of trailing by 10 points.
Then, near the end of the first half, Chrissy Carr sank a 3-pointer to cut Iowa State’s lead to nine. It could have led to the Wildcats climbing back into the game before halftime, but instead, Iowa State closed the half on an 8-0 run.
“They have good awareness, they pass the ball effectively, they’re able to spread you with five players and that really gets you spread defensively,” Mittie said. “And then the fact that they’re all above-average passers makes them extremely hard to defend.”
Now, the Wildcats will have to sort out their offensive woes. They’re not shooting well, especially from distance. They haven’t had many players contributing to scoring. They’re digging themselves holes with slow starts.
They now hit the road for the next two games — at Kansas on Wednesday, at Oklahoma on Sunday. It’s now or never if they want to make a push for the NCAA Tournament. They missed an opportunity for a statement victory Saturday, but there will be more as the second half of Big 12 play continues.
Mittie left his team with one message after a bad loss.
“‘Hey, let’s leave here and let’s leave here with a determination to get better on Monday and try to leave this frustration behind us,’” he said. “I think you kind of flush the last couple here in terms of, ‘Let’s try to hit the reset button going into a big rivalry game on Wednesday and let’s try to come in and get better on Monday.’”