Gabby Gregory went off for 26 points to lead four players in double figures Sunday afternoon as Kansas State women’s basketball held off Utah Tech 91-82 at Bramlage Coliseum.
The senior Oklahoma transfer hit 8 of 20 shots, including 6 of 14 3-pointers, and pulled down nine rebounds. She scored 16 points and hit four triples in the first quarter, the most opening-period 3-pointers by any Wildcat in school history.
“I think I was just tired of the coaches making fun of me for not making my 3s,” Gregory joked about her first-quarter performance. “I think I was just like, ‘Let me just make some today so they stop making fun of me.’”
Jaelyn Glenn added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Serena Sundell had 18 points and five boards. Freshman Eliza Maupin logged her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
K-State (5-0) shot 43% from the field and 31% from 3-point distance despite putting up a season-high 91 points.
The Trailblazers (3-2), meanwhile, shot 46% overall and outscored the Wildcats 48-37 in the second half to turn what was a 20-point game at the intermission into a free-throw shooting competition at the end.
“Tale of two halves,” said head coach Jeff Mittie, who reached win No. 150 in his time at K-State. “Really good first half, really bad second half. Not a lot of middle area. I thought our defense was atrocious in the second half. I think the margin probably hurt us in the sense that we really lost a lot of focus and really had trouble getting it back.”
The Wildcats shot the lights out in the first quarter, connecting on 60% of their attempts and outscoring Utah Tech — which shot a respectable 44.4% — 31-20.
They cooled off significantly in the second, going 33.3% from the field. However, they still managed to push their lead to 54-34 by halftime by holding the Trailblazers to 14 points on 37.5% shooting and five turnovers in the second period.
“The press really got us going, I think, and we had good flow there,” Mittie said. “We had a really open court, and obviously got off to a really great start, really hot. But we were really, really playing, I think, kind of free-flowing.”
But in the second half, Utah Tech — which entered the game averaging 91 points per game — shot the ball at a 51.5% clip while K-State dipped to 36.7%.
The Trailblazers got as close as six points in the final minute, but the Wildcats made enough foul shots to hold on to the victory.
“The game really got bogged down there in the third quarter and the fourth,” Mittie said. “We lost a lot of focus. We were doing things that were really uncharacteristic of our group.”
Gregory faced foul trouble and her shooting percentage dropped. She scored just four points in the second half.
Glenn notched 13 of her points in the final two periods, the only Wildcat to put up double figures in that half. She also had two steals and a blocked shot in the game.
“Coach has me playing a lot of different roles, putting me at the point guard, which is just super fun for me,” Glenn said. “Just seeing my opportunities and taking them, helping my team win rebounds.”
Utah Tech moved into a zone defense, something against which K-State hasn’t played much, leading to settling on shot selection. Meanwhile, the Wildcats went away from the press because Mittie thought his team might play better in a set, half-court defense.
But as to the more specific reasons his team lost focus, he couldn’t hazard a guess.
Gregory postulated that some “bogus fouls” — the reaction to which ended up with a technical foul called on the K-State bench — affected the team’s energy, as did the injury to Brylee Glenn, who went down with an apparent left ankle injury with 1:44 left in the second quarter and did not return.
“It was hard to get back into our groove,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know. It was hard for me to get back into it.”
Fatigue was another factor. The contest with the Trailblazers was the Wildcats’ third game in four days, a stretch that started with a late-night, hard-fought, emotional 84-83 win over No. 4 Iowa on Thursday.
Mittie said that the fatigue was likely “more between the ears” than physical, especially for his team’s defense.
“We just were not doing the things we were talking about doing: no 3s, play one-on-one,” Mittie said.
An island vacation may be just what K-State needs to recover. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they loaded up on a bus at 2:30 a.m. Monday to head to the Kansas City airport, from which they flew to the US Virgin Islands to participate in the Paradise Jam.
They will have a few days to rest and relax on the beach before they play Clemson at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Northern Arizona at 4:45 p.m. on Friday and Arkansas at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“I don’t mind (playing three games in three days) because we’re going to be at the beach, so I’m excited,” Gregory said. “I don’t feel like you get as tired when you’re on the beach.”
“I think being in the right mindset (is important),” Jaelyn Glenn added. “Like yeah, we’re at the beach, but those three days that we have games, it’s a business trip. Just knowing that we have to go down there and know what we have to do when we’re down there. Coach talked about this in the locker room: just being locked in when it’s time to lock in.”
Mittie said he was looking forward to the challenge of playing back-to-back-to-back days as well as the chance for the team to spend time enjoying each other and a unique tournament location.
“We’re thrilled to be 5-0,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. If it weren’t for the last 15 minutes of this game, I’d be in a lot better mood. But I’m going to enjoy seeing a little bit of water and a little bit of sand.”