On Monday evening in Manhattan, Kan., the Kansas State women’s basketball team will try to do what it hasn’t since 2002 — earn a spot in the Sweet 16.
Jeff Mittie’s Wildcats failed to advance last year when they lost to No. 1 seed South Carolina in the second round. It was the seventh time in the Big 12 era that K-State failed to advance to regionals.
But if they’re going to rewrite the record books and make a trip to Lexington, Ky., this week, the seventh-seeded Wildcats (23-10) will need to upset No. 2 seed Stanford (29-5) in the 5:30 p.m. matchup at Bramlage Coliseum. The Cardinal has appeared in the Sweet 16 for nine straight years.
“I think anyone in the type of leagues we are in, I think you get prepared all the time, 18 games and all those things,” Mittie said Sunday. “I feel like our group is prepared from the postseason tournaments to the NCAA Tournament teams we have played to the past games.”
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K-State is coming off a 67-54 win over Drake in which it shot 46.7 percent from the field, outrebounded the Bulldogs 41-26 and scored 22 points off turnovers. The Wildcats didn’t give Drake room to use its top weapons offensively, something they’ll need to continue Monday when Stanford trots out Erica McCall (14.4 points per game), Karlie Samuelson (12.8) and Brittany McPhee (12.8) onto the court.
But they’ll also need to watch for Alanna Smith, a sophomore forward who has played 620 minutes despite just three starts and is second on the team in rebounds (174) and blocks (55). She led Stanford with 19 points in Saturday’s win over New Mexico State.
Three-point threat Samuelson was 5 for 9 beyond the arc in the first round and scored 17 points. She’s third in the nation in three-point shooting with 48 percent accuracy and has connected 85 threes this season.
If she can keep up with Stanford, the Wildcats can count on center Breanna Lewis, who put up 23 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds against Drake. But K-State will need Kindred Wesemann, who shot 4 for 12 from three-point range on Saturday, to take better looks against Stanford to stay competitive outside of the paint.
And for K-State to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in program history, the Wildcats will have to lock down the fourth quarter. Stanford has been down by at least nine points and come back to win four times this season, including in each of its last three contests. In Saturday’s game, New Mexico State led until a McPhee layup with 7:50 remaining gave Stanford the advantage for good.
“We know we have a big challenge,” Mittie said. “ … They have handled both success and adversity, and I think our group fits in that category as well as Stanford’s group fits in that category.”