Manhattan, KS — Controversial calls, turnovers and missed rebounds all affected the Kansas State Wildcats early in the game versus the No. 23 Auburn Tigers, but they never lost sight of their mission and played to win. By a final score of 71-66, Kansas State improved to 7-0 on the season.
What started as a rocky road for the Wildcats quickly transitioned into a much more smooth-sailing night. The Tigers came out ready to fight, slapping on a full-court press and forcing several Wildcat turnovers that turned into layups on the other end.
Not only was Auburn making statements on defense — but they also had nine offensive rebounds, whereas the Cats, only had three defensive rebounds in the first ten minutes of action. At the end of the first quarter, it was all stripes as Auburn took a 21-13 lead.
“We’re relentless,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “We keep fighting. We’re extremely tough. We’re a pressing team, and we will always press,”
Kansas State went into the second half with a renewed fire in their eyes after turning the ball over and losing the rebounding battle. No longer accepting that Auburn owned the first period, the Wildcats slowly but surely shaved down the deficit.
Kindred Wesemann drained a three, Breanna Lewis took it to the rack on numerous occasions and the aggressive play of Eternati Willock landed her at the charity stripe. Each proved pivotal moments for the Wildcats as they turned the game around and showed Auburn whose house they were in.
Kansas State’s “next play” mentality was in full force.
One controversial call stirred up the Wildcats and the fans, and from that moment on, even more fuel was added to the fire for Kansas State. After Auburn’s guard Janiah McKay dribbled into her own teammate — but a foul was whistled on Wildcats guard Karyla Middlebrook — Kansas State took it personally.
Wesemann, in particular, put on a clinic with threes, jumpers, defensive stops and drawing fouls to cut the score and take the Wildcats’ confidence up a notch. The half ended with Kansas State scoring 21 points in the second quarter, giving them their first lead of the night at 34-32.
The halftime break was clearly a mode of rejuvenation for both teams. Neither team ever led by more than two points for long as both opponents were draining threes and limiting second chance opportunities.
Auburn’s Brandy Montgomery had back-to-back threes early in the third, but Kansas State’s Peyton Williams answered with back-to-back offensive rebounds and easy put-backs. This momentum in tandem with crucial makes by Willock, Lewis, Wesemann and Kayla Goth as the quarter winded down gave the Wildcats a 52-48 lead with 10 minutes to go.
“I think ‘next play’ is certainly one of the mantras we talk about,” Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “You will hear our team talk about poise an awful lot. I thought the challenge tonight was; you have to be very poised on offense against Auburn, but you have to play frantic on the defensive end, and we were having trouble separating the two early.”
In the final quarter, it was do or die. Auburn made a dent in Kansas State’s leadoff full-court pressure resulting in steals, layups and an undeniably frustrated Wildcat team eventually nailed with a technical foul. A four-point lead for the Tigers seemed like what could be the turning point — but it was far from it on the Wildcats home turf.
Kansas State recollected themselves and never give up. To no surprise, Wesemann continued to take control and finished the evening with a team-high 16 points. She was joined by two others in double-figures: Lewis with 13 points, nine rebounds and Williams with 11 points in just 19 minutes of action.