SE: K-State WBB Returns Fan Support with NCAA Tournament Home Game Against Drake

The unique fan support the K-State women’s basketball team receives can be captured in a number of ways and moments. 

When the Wildcats’ brought in No. 1 Connecticut in December, Bramlage Coliseum was sold out. After every home game, K-State players spread out with sharpies to sign autographs to fans, young and old, and to simply converse with the people cheering them on. 

This support reaches outside the confines of Bramlage, too.

Senior guard Kindred Wesemann can go to pick up a box of Pop-Tarts at a local grocery store and a K-State fan will recognize her — one instance she shared in Friday’s press conference. Breanna Lewis has encountered many similar circumstances. 

“’For me, that has been the highlight of my college career,” Lewis, a senior forward averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds this season for the Wildcats, said of K-State’s fan support. 

“To have people like that, it’s a big thing in women’s basketball,” added Wesemann, who’s producing a team-high 14.0 points this season. “I would say that we have one of the best crowds in the nation.”

K-State, which ranks 12th in the country in average attendance this season (5,280 per game), returned its fans’ appreciation and passion for women’s basketball with some more of it in Bramlage for the first time since 2003, the Wildcats are hosting the NCAA Tournament. K-State, a seven seed, will play 10th-seeded Drake on Saturday at 3 p.m. The winner will advance to play either second-seeded Stanford or 15th-seeded New Mexico State on Monday in Manhattan.

“You’re running out of the same tunnel you’ve ran out of a thousand times,” Wesemann said of playing at home. “It’ll feel great.”

To highlight one significant part of hosting, K-State head coach Jeff Mittie brought up a conversation with Jacie Hoyt, a third-year assistant for K-State. Hoyt was a standout high school player at Hoxie and aspired to be like many of the Wildcats on that 2003 team, which set a high standard for the program. 

“She was growing up wanting to be Nicole Ohlde, wanting to be Kendra Wecker. I think there’s some young girls now that want to be Kindred Wesemann. There’s some young girls across the state of Kansas that want to be Bre Lewis,” Mittie said. “I think that is what is unique about being here as a women’s basketball player, being recognizable, being a role model that people can not only see on TV but they come and they can be part of the game, be part of the experience.” 

K-State (22-10) will make its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and will do so in a building they’ve been very successful. The Wildcats are 13-3 at home this season, and 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament all-time when playing in Manhattan. Their only home losses this season are to No. 14 Texas, No. 5 Baylor and No. 1 Connecticut, which holds the NCAA’s longest winning streak ever at 107 games. 

On Saturday, K-State will face a team with the nation’s second-longest current winning streak in Drake. The Bulldogs (28-4) have won 22 in a row, last losing on December 21, 2016, to Auburn, which K-State beat earlier in the same month.  

Since then, Drake has rattled off wins without any bumps along the way. During the winning streak, the Bulldogs are averaging 84 points a game. Additionally, they’ve surpassed 90 points seven times and won by a double-digit margin 17 times since their last loss.

“They’re a very explosive team,” Mittie said of Drake, which went 18-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference. “We’ll have to get them stopped in transition. We’ll have to make sure we have a great awareness on defense. We’ve done what we can in practice to emphasize those things and I think our group understands that Drake’s a very, very talented team.”

Drake’s offensive statistics speak to its talent. The Bulldogs rank second in the country in assists per game (21.8), fifth in field goal percentage (48.8), seventh in scoring offense (83.1) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). 

“To do what they’ve done is very, very impressive,” Mittie said. “We’ll have to, defensively, guard a lot of things.”

That starts with Lizzy Wendell, who played with K-State junior Karyla Middlebrook at Blue Springs, Missouri. Wendell paces a diverse scoring charge for the Bulldogs, averaging 21.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals. Behind the 6-foot senior are four more double-digit scorers, with three other teammates averaging between 8.6 and 5.8 points a game. 

“They get it from virtually every player on the roster,” Mittie said of Drake, which averages 8.4 three-point makes a game and is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007. 

A handful of Wildcats experienced the NCAA Tournament last season in Columbia, South Carolina, where they won their first round game against George Washington. A good portion of K-State’s roster, including Middlebrook and three freshmen, will be new to the NCAA Tournament, however. 

“My advice to the entire team is to embrace the beauty of the tournament, embrace the differences — all those things that are fun to be part of,” Mittie said. “You worked hard to get here, now focus on what you can control.”

Likewise, Mittie said the preparation leading up to Saturday’s first round game, which will be nationally televised on ESPN2 and tip off at 3 p.m., has been no different than any other game. 

“I think the preparation part is the most normal part of all of this,” Mittie said. “The other stuff is where they have to control what they can control, and they have to embrace it because it is going to be different.”

One thing that won’t change, he continued, is the level of play the Wildcats will need to bring to extend their season. 

“Whether you play at home, on the road, wherever, you have to play good basketball,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what venue you’re in, we have to play good basketball. We have to play to our strengths and we have to eliminate our weaknesses as much as possible. Our group has always done, I think, a very solid job of coming, preparing and doing the things necessary to do that to the best of their ability.”

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