With one game remaining in its regular season, the Kansas State women’s basketball team already knows its fate.
The Wildcats will face Iowa State at 11 a.m. Friday at Municipal Arena in Kansas City, Mo. The question is whether Kansas State will play as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Iowa State plays No. 2 Baylor for its final game of the season, which likely means a Kansas State win will clinch the No. 4 seed.
For their part, the Wildcats will face Kansas at 2 p.m. Sunday That, in and of itself, is reason enough not to allow their minds to drift too far forward into the tournament.
“It helps that this is KU, because nobody’s overlooking KU,” senior Peyton Williams said. “This game is so much fun and it’s an important game for all of us, so that’s helpful and helps us stay in the moment.”
For the team’s three seniors, it will in all likelihood be the final Sunflower Showdown of their careers. Each has taken a different path to reach the rivalry. This will be the ninth time Williams will suit up against KU, while Angela Harris will play her first home game against the Jayhawks come Sunday.
Despite their different experience levels with their counterparts from Lawrence, all three look back on the rivalry games fondly. For Jasauen Beard, the best moment of her Sunflower Showdown history came earlier this season.
“I went up for a block and I definitely blocked this girl’s shot, but (Ayoka Lee) also blocked the shot, and they gave it to her,” Beard said.
In Harris’ lone game against KU, she nailed a 3-pointer after going behind the back with her dribble before stepping back into the shot.
“Everybody was talking about that after the game,” Harris said. “They were like, ‘Oh, you made that girl almost fall.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’”
Williams had to take more time to sort through various rivalry games, eventually settling on the closely contested games she has been part of between Kansas State and KU when the two meet in Lawrence.
“There are so many really close ones in Lawrence that we came away with the win,” Williams said. “Those feel great, because of course it feels great to beat your rival, but to do it with a dagger in the last second is always fun.”
K-State enters Sunday’s game a much more stable team than it was a little more than a month ago when it last met Kansas.
That team was prone to wild swings, winning multiple games in a row before losing the same number.
However, in the past month, the Wildcats have discovered an identity on both offense and defense that has pushed them back into the upper shelf of the Big 12.
“At the beginning of conference, we were struggling to find out what kind of team we were,” Harris said. “I think now, we’ve definitely found out we’re a pass-the-ball-insideand-hold-people-to -under-60-points kind of team.”
The change has paid off, as K-State has held all but two teams — Baylor and Oklahoma — to less than 70 points in the last month.
Meanwhile, Ayoka Lee further emerged as a dominant post presence, setting the K-State record for most double-doubles and the Big 12 record for most times to win the conference’s Freshman of the Week award.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here to finish in the top four of the league,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “We’ve got a rivalry game on Sunday. This time of the year, it’s always cliche to say one game at a time, but you say it for a reason. The games come fast, and if you get caught up too much looking ahead, then you’re not playing anymore.”