K-State Wildcats vs. WSU Cougars: NCAA Tournament TV, time


Kansas State center Ayoka Lee (50) boxes out South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina won 65-44. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)


Shortly after ESPN’s selection show revealed last weekend that the Kansas State women’s basketball team was heading to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed, all eyes turned to Ayoka Lee.

The studio crew singled her out and displayed several graphics about Lee’s incredible junior season with the Wildcats. Basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo, the former Connecticut and WNBA star, even did a side by side comparison of herself and Lee, a 6-foot-6 center.

That’s what happens when you average 22.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on your way to second-team All America honors.

A large group of K-State fans roared with approval at the team’s watch party throughout the entire segment, for good reason. It’s reasonable to assume that the Wildcats will go as far as Lee can take them this postseason.

Funny thing about that logic: It might not work out that way. Her supporting cast seems more important than ever as the team embarks on March Madness.

Why? Ever since she scored a NCAA record 61 points against Oklahoma earlier this season, opposing teams have been doing everything within their power to stop her.

“It is such a big number, right?” K-State coach Jeff Mittie said. “That catches your eye. It makes you say, ‘We’re going to make them beat us a different way.’ I told you guys at the time when I looked up and saw she had 58, I said ‘That’s not right. Oh, wait, that is right.’ It just caught everybody’s attention.”

Lee, and the Wildcats have noticed.

Teams with size are being more physical with her inside and teams with athleticism are putting so much pressure on K-State’s guards that they can’t pass to her inside. It’s not unusual to see an entire defense sag off the perimeter and swarm Lee as soon as she touches the ball in the paint.

“Every game, there’s a lot of help being sent,” Lee said. “It’s just never going to be easy. There is always going to be help, extra pressure. It is something you have to get used to. You have to make adjustments.”

So far, those have been difficult.

Lee has gone from getting 30 touches a game to between 15 and 20. Not coincidentally, she has only averaged 17.5 points and nine rebounds since her monstrous game. And the Wildcats have lost eight of their past 12.

Mittie said it’s taken some time for guards like Brylee Glenn, Jaelyn Gleen, Emilee Ebert and Sundell to get used to being wide open.

“People are adjusting,” K-State guard Serena Sundell said. “We have to be able to step up on the perimeter and make them come out and guard us so we can give her more opportunities. They’re going to be collapsing on Ayoka. She’s a big name and a great player who is very efficient inside. So we have got to be able to knock down shots and make them guard us so we can get everyone back involved.”

When Lee was at the height of her powers earlier this season, few teams could hang with the Wildcats. She erupted for those 61 points against Oklahoma and K-State won 94-65. She scored 32 points against Baylor and K-State won that game 68-59. The Wildcats also took down Texas Tech 82-75 when she scored 31 points.

K-State would love for her to explode for another big game at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday against No. 8 seed Washington State. But if the Cougars don’t allow that to happen, she will need help.

Her teammates will be ready.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and four children.

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