Kansas State University

Jeff Mittie called a team meeting, then the K-State women started winning

K-State women’s coach Jeff Mittie talks mid-season turnaround

K-State women's coach Jeff Mittie talks mid-season turnaround
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K-State women's coach Jeff Mittie talks mid-season turnaround

It’s not hard to pinpoint the moment things started to change for the Kansas State women’s basketball team this season.

The Wildcats lost a home game by 29 points to Iowa State in early February that felt like a crippling blow to their NCAA Tournament chances. They were 13-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big 12. Time was running out, and they knew it.

“Our confidence was way down,” K-State coach Jeff Mittie said. “We played horrible.”

So they held a long team meeting and figured out what it would take to turn things around. Then they started winning, and winning and winning. Eight games later, K-State (20-11, 11-7) seems like a lock for the postseason.

They will open the Big 12 Tournament in the quarterfinals as the No. 5 seed against No. 4 seed West Virginia at 11 a.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City.

That must have been some meeting.

“It helped us flip our mindset,” freshman guard Christianna Carr said. “We got everything out on the table, and then Coach Mittie told us, ‘That’s out the window. It’s time to flip the switch.’ We all started thinking about what we can do tomorrow in practice to help us move forward, because if we kept going at that pace we weren’t going anywhere. We had to make a change.”

K-State coaches got more specific than that.

At the request of veteran players, they brought back a challenge that had worked to motivate individuals in past seasons. The challenge calls for each player to focus on three things she can do well to help her team.

Do those three things, and good things will happen. Some of those things were as complex as reading defenses and simple as relaxing on the court.

It had a calming effect on everyone.

“We were down 11 recently,” Mittie said. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s do our three things here. Let’s just do those to the best of our ability.’ Immediately, Kali Jones came out of the timeout and got two run outs. All of the sudden, you’re watching players play harder.”

That has also led to some strong individual games. Senior guard Kayla Goth had 30 points and seven assists in a revenge victory against West Virginia and junior forward Peyton Williams has averaged 22.7 points and 11 rebounds over the past three games.

K-State is on a roll.

“I’m really proud of the way this team has grown up,” Mittie said.

But their journey isn’t over. As fun as it has been winning seven of their past eight games to get this point, they would love to continue this run in the postseason.

“People doubt us going into the NCAA Tournament,” Goth said. “They always have, ever since I have been here. Being able to step into those shoes and do something once we get there, win a couple games, is very motivating to me. We have a lot left to prove.”

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.