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Preview: Kansas State Wildcats seek resume-boosting upset over No. 11 Texas Longhorns

The last time the Kansas State Wildcats and Texas Longhorns met, it wasn’t much of a contest. But there’s more than just pride on the line for Kansas State in the rematch — the Wildcats are seeking another signature win to improve their resume for the upcoming 2022 NCAA Tournament.

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Baylor v Kansas State
Kansas State No. 50 Ayoka Lee will need to be her usual dominant self if the Wildcats are to defeat the Texas Longhorns.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The Kansas State Wildcats (18-8, 8-6 Big 12) will host the No. 11 Texas Longhorns (19-6, 9-5 Big 12) in their penultimate home game of the regular season on Wednesday. The game will air on Big 12 Now (ESPN+), with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.

With March drawing ever closer, the grand majority of the country’s teams have established their identities and what makes them successful. For Kansas State, it’s Ayoka Lee who drives most of that success; the 6-foot-6 center is currently averaging 23.5 points (including an NCAA record 61 points on Jan. 23), 10.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots per game while ranking second among all Division I players in both player efficiency rating (45.3) and total win shares (10.3), according to Her Hoop Stats.

Lee’s star power wasn’t nearly enough, however, the last time the Wildcats and Longhorns squared off. A stifling Texas defense held Kansas State to 48 points (28 from players besides Lee) on Jan. 26, forcing 19 turnovers while the team’s offense outscored the Wildcats 18-3 from behind the 3-point line. Texas guard Aliyah Matharu continued her strong play in her first season as a Longhorn, leading her team with 18 points and four made 3-pointers, while Audrey Warren chipped in 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field.

The Longhorn victory was just one of many impressive wins during what has been Texas’ strongest season in quite some time. In their second go-around under head coach Vic Schaefer, the Longhorns are outscoring opponents by an average of 21.8 points per 100 possessions, their highest such mark in over a decade, with a talented freshman class reinvigorating the program and setting it up well for years to come.

Highlights: Schaefer praises his team’s effort in victory over Kansas State

Despite the Longhorns’ high points during the 2021-22 NCAA season, the talent gap between Texas and Kansas State is not as large as it may seem — at least, not right now — with only one game separating the two teams in the Big 12 standings. Kansas State, of course, would love to take Wednesday’s rematch, if for no reason other than paying the Longhorns back for the previous meeting.

We’re at the point in the regular season, though, where every win counts towards a team’s case for the NCAA Tournament. While Texas is pretty safe — ESPN’s Charlie Creme tabbed the Longhorns at a No. 3 seed in his latest tournament projection — Kansas State isn’t as sure of a bet, currently projected by Creme as a No. 8 seed. A win over Texas would go far in solidifying the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament resume.

Game information

No. 11 Texas Longhorns (19-6, 9-5 Big 12) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (18-8, 8-6 Big 12)

When: Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, KS

How to watch: Big 12 Now (ESPN+)

Keys to the matchup: As with any Kansas State game, Lee will be at the center of both teams’ game plans. The Wildcats will make every effort to get Lee the ball — she’s currently posting a massive 34.1 percent usage rate — while Texas must figure out a way to minimize her impact. That’s much easier said than done, so the Longhorns’ blueprint might look like it did the last time they played the Wildcats: force Lee to give up the basketball and make her teammates beat them. It certainly worked the first time around, and there’s no doubt that Kansas State’s backcourt will need to play much better to match its dynamic counterparts on Texas.