Manhattan, KS -- Kansas State's last defensive performance in Bramlage Coliseum against West Virginia was nothing compared to Wednesday night against Oklahoma State.
West Virginia went into halftime with a huge lead, tacking 44 points onto the home team.
Oklahoma State was a different story.
"I thought it was a really hard-fought win," said Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie. "Oklahoma State is, I think, an excellent defensive team and we had trouble finding points tonight. Our group was really resilient, and they found a way to win the game. I felt defensively; that was our best performance."
Though the Cowgirls struck first, it didn't take long for the Wildcats junior center Breanna Lewis, a.k.a. LEWWWWWWWWW, to make her presence known on a wide-open beauty.
Lewis' fire was rekindled after being smoldered a week ago by the Mountaineers. And Lewis' recharged offensive prowess made all the difference for the Wildcats, especially in the post where the 6-5 junior received pass after passâmost times with two defenders.
Tied at 4-4, Kansas State lost two calls on consecutive Oklahoma State-tipped balls out of bounds, causing a 4-point swing in OSU's favor- and Mittie to share a few words with the referee.
Lewis again made short work of the Cowgirls' lead, working confidently under the basket on both sides of the ball.
To say Kansas State's defense stepped up would be an understatement. Oklahoma State had trouble holding onto the ball on almost every offensive possession due to tight guarding and an unyielding Wildcats' zone.
The Cowgirls were even forced to pass the ball dangerously high for fear of a K-State takeaway. The Wildcats racked up an impressive 9 blocks and 11 steals, compared to the Cowgirls' 2 blocks and 7 steals.
However, when Oklahoma State couldn't find anything inside, senior guard Rodricka Patton started sinking shots from beyond the arc. A quick OSU offense slowed K-State's defense just enough to go into the half tied at 22, saved by Patton's 6-point swing and team defensive rebounding.
Kansas State's defensive breakdown continued in the second half thanks in part to Oklahoma State's Brittney Martin, who leads the Big 12 in points per game and who recorded yet another double-double through one of her worst performances thus far.
Oklahoma State led by 9 with seven and a half minutes to go. Yet instead of Kansas State continuing to dig themselves into a hole per the pattern of their four previous conference games, they did something remarkableâthey fought.
Additionally, the Wildcats were aided by an ailing Cowgirl offense that didn't score in the final nine minutes of the game and missed 14 consecutive shots to close out the fourth quarter.
"K-State did a good job defensively, and when you run a chaser defense, other people have to step up and pick up the slack and make shots, and we did not do that," said Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell. "Our shot selection was very questionable in the last seven minutes of the game."
Five minutes remained, and the Wildcats were down 39-44. Senior Megan Deines drew an easy foul, sinking the two ensuing free throws.
Then the Cinderella story began to unfold.
Kaylee Page rebounded an Oklahoma State long shot with two and a half minutes to go, followed by a perfect Kindred Wesemann 3-pointer to tie it up at 44.
"It was either Lewis or (Page) that set me a really good screen," Wesemann said. "The girl went under, so I just shot it. I could hear (Coach Mittie) over there saying, ‘Be ready to hit it.' So I just let it go, and it went in."
Wesemann drew a charge with one minute remaining. A fiery pass inside to Lewis immediately followed, setting up the comeback and the lead 46-44.
The Cowgirls again can't find a way inside and forward Mandy Coleman fouls out, leading Wesemann to make one of two free throws with a half minute remaining, 47-44 Kansas State.
The Cowgirls have just two shots to tie the game, the first of which is blocked by Deines and the second of which falls short.
Kansas State rebounds the ball, and the entirety of Bramlage Coliseum remembers to breathe as the final seconds slip away. The Wildcats pull through 47-44, and a young team finally learns how to finish.
"We were fortunate that we found enough of a run at the right time of the game because it was a hard night to find points," Mittie said. "Our group hung in there and kept fighting, scrapping and believing that they would find some points, and they made some big buckets down the stretch."
To summarize it, Kansas State's intensity tipped the scales. Wesemann and Lewis played like leaders, and Mittie instilled his bench significantly more than their last home showing.
For Oklahoma State, a team receiving votes in the Jan. 11 Associated Press poll, shooting practice begins tomorrow.
"It is very disappointing," Littell said. "These are games that if you want to be in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year, you have to finish them. Someone has to step up and make a play. Their kids stepped up and made a playâwe missed our last 14 shots. That is the difference in the ball game."
But for Kansas State, this Wildcats team can find comfort in their first conference winâand in no longer being tied for last place in the Big 12.