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Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

Rejuvenated Wildcats head to new Big 12 tournament arena with high hopes

Women’s basketball readies for monumental postseason play
Macy Franko
Guard Serena Sundell and head coach Jeff Mittie high-five to celebrate the 69-68 win after the game against Oklahoma State on Feb. 10. Sundell hit the game-winning layup with 23 seconds left to secure the win.

Editor’s note: Updated who K-State will play following West Virginia’s win over Cincinnati.

After a season of program records, a key injury and late setbacks, Kansas State women’s basketball strives onward, focusing on the Big 12 and NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats pushed through to a 24-6 record and earned a double-bye as the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament. This was made possible by a historic season, climbing from an unranked team to as high as No. 2.

“If you had told me that we had played seven games without Lee in conference, and we were able to still achieve a double-bye, win 24 games … at this point of the season, I say I’d be pretty happy,” head coach Jeff Mittie said.

K-State’s No. 2 ranking fell to No. 16 as center Ayoka Lee missed seven games after an ankle injury. 

“Teams are gonna face hard times and so it’s kind of just like how you react to that, how you come back from that,” guard Gabby Gregory said.

The Wildcats still managed to end the season on a high note, defeating Texas Tech 73-49. This was the first K-State win decided by over 10 points since Jan. 20. 

“I would definitely say that the spirits are higher than they were before that Texas Tech game. … We just really needed a game like that,” Gregory said. “It had been a while since we just really dominated someone in a game.”

The boosted morale was evident to Mittie. The 10th-year head coach said the team practiced well this week on Monday and Wednesday. These practices come as the Wildcats had to wait a week until their first game at 8 p.m. Saturday against West Virginia.

“We have what feels like a really long time before we play on Saturday,” guard Serena Sundell said. “I think we’re all just itching to get back on the court.”

Saturday’s late game takes place at T-Mobile Arena. The 2024 women’s Big 12 tournament marks the first year both the men’s and women’s tournament play in the arena. Previously, the tournament was held in the Municipal Auditorium. The change of scenery and larger stage is something Mittie, Gregory, Sundell and Lee all said they look forward to.

“I think it’s exciting,” Lee said. “Just with the trend in women’s basketball, it’s where it should go. It’ll be exciting to see a lot of fans and to play in a bigger venue.”

Aside from playing in a new arena, coming out as a top performer is key for K-State. The Wildcats stand as a No. 5 seed in the latest ESPN Bracketology. The difference between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed is enormous. All 16 1-4 seeds host their first and second rounds at home — a major advantage for any team in March. K-State’s Big 12 tournament could be the difference between traveling on opening weekend or staying in Manhattan.

“We know with a certainty that if we win the Big 12 tournament, we’ll host,” Mittie said. “That’s not a question, that’s not even — there wouldn’t be any expert that would tell you [different].”

Sundell said they don’t want to settle as they hope to make it into the top 16 and win the first Big 12 tournament in program history. The team’s mindset is they can achieve both.

“Everything we want is right in front of us,” Gregory said. “Nothing’s off the table at all.”

As the Wildcats head into postseason play in what was a season full of glory and strong fan excitement, the journey is not over. Gregory, lead promoter of the Gap Goat, has a message for K-State fans: make T-Mobile Arena feel like a K-State home game would in the NCAA tournament.

“Make sure to put this quote in there,” Gregory said. “I’m excited to have a lot of fans there. Playing in Kansas City, we have a lot of K-State alums that live out there. … It’s just a short drive from Manhattan. So really, really hoping that we can get several thousand people out there in Kansas City to the games this weekend.”

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About the Contributor
Luke Lazarczyk, sports writer
Sports editor for 2023-24. Previously sports editor for 2022-23 and writer for 2021-22.
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