For the first time since Dec. 21, the Kansas State women’s basketball team will take the court. The team will be in Morgantown, West Virginia, to play the West Virginia Mountaineers on Wednesday.
The Wildcats got hit by the pandemic, and it caused them to go about a month with no game action. They missed five games, which officials will reschedule.
When the program was shut down, the Wildcats were a little wounded. Center Ayoka Lee was getting back to full strength as she recovered from an injury. With the month break, coach Jeff Mittie says his team is back to full health.
“It feels good that we have players who are feeling better physically,” Mittie said. “It feels good to be prepared for a game. With the Christmas break, and all (the pandemic) thrown into this, it has been the longest break I think in the country. It was certainly the longest break I have ever had during the middle of the season.”
The Wildcats are excited to get back into the swing of things. They are faced with a big challenge as the Mountaineers are playing great basketball riding a five-game winning streak and have a 10-2 record on the season.
Without playing a game in a month, it is all about playing to the fundamentals for the Wildcats on Wednesday.
“The question is can we play the fundamentals of basketball for 40 minutes,” Mittie said.
“Can we focus? Can we play together well? Can we get our conditioning level up to game speed as fast as possible? That is not going to happen in one practice. That is not going to happen in one game. We will take it just possession by possession. Put together a game plan to play well, and hopefully we can adhere to that.”
This game will feature competition in the paint. Lee is the driving force for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-6 forward is the focus point of the Wildcats’ offense. The Mountaineers also have a presence in the paint. Sophomore Esmery Martinez, a 6-foot-2 forward who is averaging 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game.
“(Esmery) Martiniez is having a great year,” Mittie said. “She is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. One of the best attackers in the league. She will be a big challenge for us.”
Along with the challenge of Martinez, the Mountaineers will be a tough task for the Wildcats.
“I see a big challenge in (the Mountaineers) scoring,” Mittie said. “They can hurt you in a variety of ways: Kysre Gondrezick, and Kari Niblack who is really playing well. What has really impressed me about them is they seem to be playing so well together, and they can hurt you in a variety of ways.”
Senior guard Kysre Gondrezick along with Martinez stacks one challenge on top of another. Gondrezick is averaging 20.4 points per game. And she is shooting 336 % from the three-point range.
“You just can’t really give a lot of help for Kysre,” Mittie said. “If you give her much space, she will make you pay. (Gondrezick and Martinez) are both a real challenge to defend.”
To go up against the Mountaineers with so much talent, and with how a month layoff the Wildcats have endured, Mittie says it is all about playing your strength and game.
“In this game in particular tempo is going to be really important for us,” Mittie said. “We are going to have to stop their transition game. We are going to have to make sure we keep fresh bodies on the floor. We need to make sure we rotate our players fairly quickly. Not playing for thirty days, there is going to be some rust to take off. Hopefully, we can play each quarter a little bit better as we go along.”
K-State has played through Lee all year. And that will be the big part of the game plan to end the Mountaineers five-game losing streak.
“(Lee) has got to get touches,” Mittie said.
“We need to make sure she is getting touches in every quarter. We need to make sure that is a balanced attack for us. We can’t take too many possessions where she is not seeing the basketball.”
Mittie knows this pandemic has certainly changed this season. And after a month layoff, there is no doubt that there are some chills going through his team getting back into the season.
“I think there is some nervous energy about getting started again,” Mittie said. “The stopping and starting is so unique. We have never been through this. I think there is some nervous energy. As we are preparing to go on the road, I think there is some excitement about getting on the road and getting the season back and starting. I think confidence (is big). I hope we will build that as we see that we are playing together better. As we start to see things click. That is where our confidence will come from.”