WSU (19-11) took a seven-point lead into the halftime break but it was all K-State (20-12) in the second half. The ‘Cats flipped the script and outscored WSU 33-16 in the second half alone to capture a 10-point victory to extend the K-State season into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In order to slow down the ‘Cats, WSU needed to stop Ayoka Lee. The Cougar defense was up the task early on, holding the star forward to just six points in the first half. Limiting Lee’s opportunities inside in turn limited the ‘Cats offense as a whole as they could only manage to put up 17 points in the first twenty minutes as a team. With the defense locking down K-State on one end, WSU’s offense had their own struggles to begin the game. Krystal Leger-Walker didn’t get WSU on the board until a trey 4:14 into the game. Charlisse Leger-Walker added four points with a layup and a pair of free throws and Krystal added the final points of the quarter for WSU with a layup with 3:05 left in the first frame. The first quarter came to a close with the Leger-Walker sisters leading the Wildcats 9-5.
Tara Wallack became the first Coug not having the last name Leger-Walker to score after nearly 14 minutes of gametime with a three ball to put WSU up 16-7. With both offenses still trying to find a rhythm, the low scoring first half came to a close with WSU up 24-17. Despite some struggles on the offensive end, WSU was doing exactly what it needed to on the defensive end. They just needed to wait for the offense to finally click to run away with this.
The third quarter turned problematic quickly. Already with two first half fouls, Bella Murekatete was called for two more before the halfway point in the third quarter. Krystal picked up her third foul early in the quarter as well. Kansas State took advantage of the foul calls, knocking home their free throws and knocking down some three-pointers to go on a 12-1 run to take the lead back. Rebekah Dallinger sank two free throws to give Kansas State a narrow two-point lead heading in the final 10 minutes.
WSU limited Lee to just 12 points in the first three quarters of play. But with how talented Lee is, you can only lock her down for so long. Lee scored six of the first eight K-State points to open the final quarter with Bella and Jessica Clarke in foul trouble, pushing the ‘Cats lead to eight. WSU’s offense really began to fall apart. Missing open shots and not getting the ball to bounce their way on the rim. The Cougars only managed to score three points on a Charlisse lay-up and a Michaela Jones free throw in the final five minutes of the game. The offensive struggles allowed K-State to slowly pull away from WSU. WSU got a great oppurtunity to bring themselves right back in the game when Charlisse stole the ball in the backcourt and got it to her sister Krystal for a look from three in the corner. Krystal’s three couldn’t connect and K-State pushed the lead to nine with a pair of free throws on the other end. WSU’s shots continued to just miss and K-State bled out the remainder of the clock for a 50-40 comeback victory to end WSU’s season in the same place it ended last year. Without an NCAA tournament victory.
It’s a heartbreaking end for the best team in program history. They played their hearts out but ultimately, it just wasn’t their day. I can’t begin to thank this team enough for yet another magical and historic season. Although they will walk away without achieving their goal of winning that first NCAA tournament game, they still have accomplished so much this season and the future is still the brightest its ever been for this program.
Long live the Cardiac Cougs.