Of course it hurt, as it was supposed to. If it didn’t hurt, Kansas State wouldn’t have been playing for the right reasons.
But the sting of Sunday’s 73-47 drubbing by South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament came with a bit of a silver lining — the Wildcats took a step this year, and next year they’re prepared to take another.
“I’m really proud of this group. They really overachieved in a lot of ways,” coach Jeff Mittie said. “We have talent, but we also know we have some flaws that we got to cover up. This was a year that was critical, I think, to gain some traction, and we did that.”
K-State will return four of its top five scorers, including the top two in point guard Kindred Wesemann and forward Breanna Lewis. The Wildcats are set to build on the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2012 and perhaps make further headway in the rugged Big 12.
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The Wildcats will focus on those things and not the sour end to their season.
“I’m really looking forward to next year,” said Lewis, who finished with 21 points.
Lewis scored nearly half the team’s points. But South Carolina’s defense was too ferocious for Lewis to get any help. Starters Wesemann and Shaelyn Martin had no shot attempts in the first half, and Megan Deines, integral to K-State’s upset of George Washington in the first round, finished 1 of 10 for five points.
The Wildcats, 19-13, accomplished a goal by getting SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson in foul trouble, sending her to the bench barely two minutes into the game. They knew that would limit South Carolina’s post game and that it could trigger K-State’s method — be competitive, stay in the game and find a way to win the fourth quarter.
Tiffany Mitchell would not let that happen. The two-time All-American swiped a ball from Deines and turned it into a lead-taking layup, and the Gamecocks, 33-1, never trailed again.
Kansas State couldn’t stay even with South Carolina’s assorted weapons. Mitchell scored 16 of her 20 points as Wilson rode the pine and then turned the game back over to Wilson and Alaina Coates.
South Carolina’s twin bigs combined for 22 points, and the Gamecocks’ defense locked up Wesemann and Martin. They finished with seven combined points as the Wildcats never found a fluid offensive attack.
“Turnovers gave us a problem,” Mittie said, pointing to the 16 yips that became 20 South Carolina points. “Their pressure really got into us on the wings.”
A bad loss but a promising beginning for Mittie’s program. K-State will be back.
“I thought the win the other night was huge for us, because so many times when a team does that, they’re just happy to be in it, they’re just, ‘Hey, we’re in the tournament, this is great,’ and I said early in this first press conference, I’ve never worried about that with our group, really, because they come every day to work hard,” Mittie said. “Real proud of our group. I wish we had played a little better tonight, but I think South Carolina had an awful lot to do with that.”