There is no doubting the importance of Kansas State’s next game against West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament.
A victory over the No. 22 Mountaineers would do more than simply keep the Wildcats’ trophy hopes alive, it would also likely secure them an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
K-State hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2012, and Jeff Mittie said his goal was to return there when he was hired as coach in 2014. Now that the Wildcats (18-11, 8-10 Big 12) are within reach, he wants nothing more than to take the final step.
“It would mean a lot to this group,” Mittie said Thursday before practice. “It has been, really, one of the most enjoyable teams I have coached. They come in every day, even if they have a bad practice or a rough day, they come in and correct it the next day. It would mean a lot, because we have grown up a lot this year.
“We have been pretty consistent. For the most part, I think our group has just, every step of the way, they have focused on the game in front of them and they haven’t gotten too outside of that. That has enabled us to be a pretty consistent team.”
K-State junior guard Kindred Wesemann, recently named an All-Big 12 second-team player after averaging 12.5 points, displayed that tunnel vision when speaking about the Wildcats’ 8:30 p.m. matchup with West Virginia on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
ESPN projects K-State to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed, meaning it may have already done enough to land on the bracket. But Wesemann seems oblivious.
“We all know that we have to play well to get there,” Wesemann said. “But right now I am not really worried about that. West Virginia is the biggest thing on my mind right now. You have to live in the present. Whatever happens in the future happens.”
K-State has not played well against West Virginia this year, losing the season series by scores of 72-53 and 64-44.
The defeats were demoralizing. So much so that Mittie decided to speak overly positive with his players following the second game.
“I just sensed that their confidence was down,” Mittie said. “I told them, ‘I know you are a good team. I have been coaching long enough to know goods team and bad teams. You are a good team.’ ”
Three days later, K-State beat No. 21 Oklahoma 87-71 and followed that with a victory over Kansas. The Wildcats have won four of their past seven games since losing at West Virginia on Feb. 6.
Recent losses to No. 4 Baylor and Oklahoma State slowed their momentum, but junior center Breanna Lewis, an All-Big 12 first-team selection, is quick to point out how it doesn’t feel like K-State is on a losing streak.
That’s what happens when you are playing for the NCAA Tournament.
“It would be very exciting,” Lewis said. “It would be this team’s first experience in the NCAA Tournament. I am looking forward to the opportunity and I would be thrilled to play in the NCAA Tournament. That is the goal you work for all season. For that to happen would be great.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett