When Jeff Mittie first met with the Kansas State women’s basketball team after he was hired as coach, he challenged everyone on the roster to raise expectations to an NCAA Tournament level.
But his words were mostly directed at Breanna Lewis. If the talented 6-foot-5 center, then a freshman, was committed to doing what it took to compete with the nation’s best, Mittie figured everything else would fall into place.
Two years later, the plan has become reality. Lewis, now a junior All-Big 12 selection who averages 16.7 points and 7.5 rebounds, is K-State’s go-to player and eager to lead the Wildcats into their first NCAA Tournament since 2012.
“I figured it would be a couple years before we made the NCAA Tournament, probably my senior year,” Lewis said. “We had young players. Our team did a really good job of stepping up and being accountable for themselves and knowing what it takes to work hard. Coach Mittie has done a great job coaching us and preparing us for what it takes to be a great team. He has done a great job, and we are prepared.”
No. 9 seed K-State will play No. 8 seed George Washington on Friday at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. A victory will likely lead to a second-round matchup with top-seeded South Carolina.
Lewis is confident the Wildcats are ready for the challenge after finishing the regular season with an 18-12 record. That means her teammates are confident, too.
“She started to vocalize a lot more this year and show some emotion when she gets big buckets for us,” junior guard Kindred Wesemann said. “She didn’t used to do that, but it really gets our team going. She only screams after something really, really cool or a momentum-changing play.”
Lewis gives K-State what every team in the NCAA Tournament needs — a playmaker.
Moments after the women’s bracket was revealed, Mittie began thinking of ways to defend top George Washington scorer Jonquel Jones. The Colonials’ coaching staff had to plan the same way for Lewis.
This is what Mittie hoped for when he arrived at K-State from TCU.
“To watch her do what she has done,” Mittie said, “against what I think are some of the best centers in the country and now putting her in that category, is pretty special. But she isn’t any further along than we thought.”
Making the NCAA Tournament was a fitting reward for her efforts. It’s what she has been working for the past two years.
“This year, I really focused on just being the best teammate I could be,” Lewis said. “That really showed on the court. I have some great teammates, and they encourage me every day. I really love this group of girls and just want to win with them.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
K-State women vs. George Washington
▪ When: 4 p.m. Friday
▪ Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
▪ Records: KSU 18-12, GW 26-6
▪ TV: ESPN2