Kansas State center Breanna Lewis expected the Wildcats to make the NCAA Tournament, but doubt began to creep into her mind when the selection show crossed its halfway point and K-State hadn’t made an appearance Monday evening.
Was the K-State women’s basketball team, which gathered at coach Jeff Mittie’s house, overconfident? The thought permeated the room.
Then came sweet relief. K-State made the field as a No. 9 seed, drawing a first-round game against No. 8 George Washington at 4 p.m. Friday in Columbia, S.C. The Wildcats would likely face No. 1 seed South Carolina with a first-round victory. South Carolina opens with No. 16 Jacksonville.
“It was just so exciting, one of the best feelings I have experienced, ever, in basketball,” Lewis said. “It is really unexplainable. You are sitting there watching every team come up, like, OK, and then when you see yours the moment it is just a feeling of pure excitement.”
Junior guard Kindred Wesemann had a similar reaction.
“I was holding my breath,” Wesemann said. “My shoulders just dropped when I saw our name pop up. I was so tense.”
K-State, 18-12, returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Projections had the Wildcats making the NCAA Tournament about where they were seeded. The team practiced all week in anticipation of the selection, but there was some uncertainty about their chances following a quarterfinal loss in the Big 12 Tournament.
It was rewarded for a sixth-place finish in the Big 12 regular season.
Mittie, who guided the Wildcats to the WNIT in his debut season a year ago, was thrilled for his players.
“Out of all the teams I have coached, this team has come through and given great effort every day,” Mittie said. “Even in this week of limbo, where you don’t know anything, they practiced at 6 a.m. all week and they were fantastic. Most teams would be in here going, ‘What are we in here for at 6 a.m.? We don’t have an opponent yet.’ But they have taken that approach to get a little bit better every day.”
Now the hard work begins.
Mittie admitted he knew little about George Washington when the bracket was revealed. GW senior Jonquel Jones averages 16 points and is expected to play in the WNBA next season. Win, and a game with one of the nation’s top teams likely comes next.
The Wildcats will need to play their best to advance. For now, though, they simply enjoy the moment.
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett