Ayoka Lee answers questions

Forward Ayoka Lee answers questions during the K-State’s women’s basketball media day in October. She recorded the first 20-point, 20-rebound game in program history in Saturday's win over Oklahoma.

For a few reasons, this may be the perfect time for the Kansas State women to hit the road to take on rival Kansas.

We’ll start with the obvious.

For one, the Wildcats are fresh off a win over Oklahoma on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak. K-State needed the win, one for a win’s sake, but also to build confidence heading into a two-game road stretch.

Plus, K-State is playing better on an individual level. Redshirt freshman center Ayoka Lee recorded the first 20-20 game in program history last week, and on Monday, she picked up her seventh — yes, seventh — Big 12 Freshman of the Week award of the season.

The Wildcats are hoping to parlay that momentum into a road win over an arch-rival.

Either way, K-State and KU are slated for an 8 p.m. tipoff Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I wouldn’t say (the Jayhawks are) playing differently,” K-State coach Jeff Mittie said. “I just think what’s been impressive about them is their balance. They’ve got six players (scoring) in double figures. That’s hard to do. Playing unselfish, playing together. Looks like they’re doing some of those things well.”

Mittie was spot on in his assessment. Aniya Thomas (12.2 points per game), Tina Stephens (11.1), Mariane de Carvalho (10.9), Brooklyn Mitchell (10.6), Holly Kersgieter (10.6) and Zakiyah Franklin (10.5) are all scoring well for the Jayhawks, who started a spotless 11-0 but enter Wednesday having lost six of their last seven.

The start of conference play spelled doom for KU (12-6, 1-6), at least so far. The Jayhawks’ first 11 wins all came in non-conference play. Their only conference win, a victory over Texas Tech, was Jan. 18.

Thing is: K-State (8-9, 2-4) would be on a similar losing skid if not for its win Saturday.

The Wildcats can thank a few players for that.

The aforementioned Lee enjoyed her best game in the purple K-State laundry. It was her ninth double-double of the season, and her 20 rebounds tied the program record for the most in a single game. She’s averaging a double-double, with 15.4 points per game and 10.9 rebounds, both of which lead all Big 12 freshmen.

“It’s kind of funny — 20-20 to celebrate the new year,” K-State forward Peyton William said with a laugh. “I don’t know what it says about the team. ‘Yoki’ is a player, certainly, and it shows that our team is able to, toward the middle of the conference season, still get her the ball when she needs it. She’s always been able to rebound — she’s, what, 6-5? — but she does work hard for those.”

For her part, Williams also had a solid outing on Saturday. She posted 24 points, one below her season-best, and she pulled down 11 rebounds.

The interesting part is that in the first quarter alone, she scored nine points on six shots. That’s a fast start for anyone, but particularly for Williams, who has rarely gotten off to those sorts of starts.

For comparison: In K-State’s two prior contests, losses to Texas and Iowa State, she recorded three shots in each first half.

That number soared to eight against Oklahoma.

“It was more of a mindset,” Williams said. “Coming off those two games, I was like, ‘I can’t have these games.’ I’m being more aggressive when I have the ball, allowing myself to be more creative when I have the ball, too, instead of just limiting myself as far as that goes. And then my teammates have been able to get me the ball.”

Here’s one of the final reasons K-State is confident it can turn this momentum into a win on Wednesday: its guard play.

Point guard Angela Harris, who has scored in double figures in seven straight games, logged 20 points against Oklahoma. Made 3 of 7 triples, too.

Plus, sophomore guard Chrissy Carr emerged from a slump, at least in one way. She registered just six points, but she also dished out four assists in what Mittie called one of her best passing games this year.

The Wildcats are hoping all that, combined, will lead to a second-straight win.

“Being in this slump that I’m in, I have to find a way to impact the game on a positive note,” Carr said. “My dad (assistant coach Chris Carr) was like, ‘You just have to find something else. If you feel like you’re being guarded well enough to where you can’t score, then you need to find a way to get other people open.’ So that was my mindset.”

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