Jeff Mittie started his news conference Saturday with a joke.
“If you didn’t have us in your bracket, please leave,” he said.
Mittie might as well have fun with it while he is coaching a team in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Mittie knows what kind of task his team is facing when the ninth-seeded Wildcats, 19-12, take on top-seeded South Carolina on Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
The Gamecocks, 32-1, are playing in their home building, which again had the country’s top-ranked attendance, and the 10,000-plus that were cheering for the Wildats to defeat George Washington on Friday will be against them.
Throw in that South Carolina is on the short list of teams that could potentially derail Connecticut in its quest for a fourth straight national championship, and Mittie knew his team is heading into a rock fight without a slingshot.
But K-State is here. Many didn’t pick it to be here, but it’s here. The Wildcats are enjoying life as the underdog since that’s what they’ve been most of the year.
“I feel like the Big 12 prepared me to play against girls that we’re going to play (Sunday),” K-State forward Breanna Lewis said. “The physicality of the game is going to be hard regardless.”
Lewis and her frontcourt mates will be tasked with trying to slow down the Gamecocks’ twin wrecking balls in the post. SEC player and defensive flayer of the year A’ja Wilson, who is 6 feet 5, and all-SEC first-team member Alaina Coates, who is 6-4, anchor South Carolina’s inside game. They combined for 37 points against Jacksonville on Friday.
If Wilson and Coates have a bad day, two-time All-American Tiffany Mitchell is on the wing.
Looking at the Gamecocks’ galaxy of stars isn’t conducive to pulling off an upset.
“We’re fortunate to be here today, but it’s not by accident,” Mittie said. “We focused on ourselves like we always do. How do we play the best that we can play?”
A zone defense has been known to disrupt the Gamecocks, and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Friday that Kansas State was the kind of team where nothing impresses you except that it plays hard every second. It wasn’t a backhanded compliment — Staley knew that her team sometimes has the tendency to coast in supposed automatic games.
The Wildcats did allow a double-double to George Washington center Jonquel Jones on Friday but as Mittie said, “it was a tough double-double.” Jones was 5 of 15 from the field as K-State did everything it could to make her uncomfortable.
They’ll want to repeat it against Wilson and Coates. It’s something K-State is used to. The Wildcats faced Baylor’s 6-7 Kalani Brown, Texas’ 6-7 Imani Boyette and West Virginia’s 6-5 Lanay Montgomery in Big 12 play.
“When you’re at the level that they’re at, they’re able to play at a pace that’s very comfortable for them,” Mittie said. “They’re going to cause us major headaches between now and game time and probably a bunch of headaches during it.”