The Kansas State women’s basketball team has been here before. The first round of the NCAA Tournament has featured the Wildcats six of the last 10 years, and the Wildcats were in a second-round game just last season.
But the Wildcat faithful hadn’t seen a first-round NCAA Tournament game at Bramlage Coliseum since 2003, when K-State beat Harvard before getting upset by Notre Dame in the second round.
On a weekend in March 14 years later, the home crowd got to watch K-State win a home NCAA Tournament game once again, as the Wildcats defeated Drake 67-54 on Saturday afternoon.
Senior Breanna Lewis led K-State with 23 points and 11 rebounds — and she shot 11 for 17 from the field despite Drake concentrating its efforts on keeping the 6-foot-5 center off balance.
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“What I thought today was this is going to be a game of styles, of who can get it in their style,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “And the challenge of playing a Drake team for us with a true center (in Lewis) is they’re going to make her run all over the floor. They’re going to run their top guard in the zone to the rim and make you get somebody else to the rim.”
It took three possessions for K-State to go up 2-0 in the first quarter on an assist from Lewis. Drake briefly went ahead 6-2 on a pair of triples from sophomore Sammie Bachrodt, a Wichita native who scored 10 points for the Bulldogs.
But K-State’s Kindred Wesemann, who entered the tournament tied for 32nd in the country with 85 three-pointers, didn’t let herself be outdone. Her three-point play with 7:31 to go in the first quarter sparked a 9-0 run.
Wesemanne finished with 16 points and was 4 for 12 beyond the arc, including a make on a three-point attempt in the fourth quarter that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Drake had been able to utilize the fastbreak, matching K-State blow for blow, so the Wildcats struggled to put the game out of reach. Lizzy Wendell, a Blue Springs native who came in averaging 21.1 points per game, capped Drake’s 7-4 stretch over five minutes with a three-pointer just 8t seconds after Wesemann attempted one of her own down the court.
Mittie called a timeout with 4:30 left in the game, the Wildcats leading 54-47.
Right after the break, Wesemann took a pass from junior Karyla Middlebrook, another Blue Springs grad, and sunk her third triple of the afternoon. K-State went on a 13-5 run over the next three minutes.
“I’m not going to speak for the whole team, but they just have so much confidence in me,” Wesemann said. “I could miss 10 in a row and they will tell me to shoot the next one.”
K-State had to deal with a Drake rally in the second quarter as well. After Lewis launched a jumper 35 seconds into the period, Drake came roaring back into the contest with a 7-0 run.
“I told them at halftime to me this would come down to two things,” Mittie said. “Do we control the basketball well enough to get rid of these live turnovers so they just don’t get run-outs? And do we control the glass? I thought we did a good job of that in the second half.”
Drake (28-5) never morphed into the machine that averaged 83 points per game coming into the NCAA Tournament. K-State reeled them in, held them to 36.5 percent shooting from the field and ended the Bulldogs’ 22-game winning streak, which had been the second-longest active streak in the NCAA.
No. 7 seed K-State (23-10) will play No. 2 seed Stanford (29-5) on Monday in Manhattan. The Cardinal beat New Mexico State 72-64 in the first game at Bramlage on Saturday.
“I think we’re where we set our goals out to be in terms of advancing in the tournament, but we’re not there and we’re still playing,” Mittie said. “What I have enjoyed the most of the growth of this team is the fact that they have really continued to learn to prepare and have such a great appreciation of learning to play the game the right way.”