The first truly tough test of Kansas State’s undefeated season comes Wednesday night at Oklahoma. And it’s interesting that this will be the third of the four still-unbeaten teams that the Sooners will face.
They lost at home to North Carolina on Nov. 23 in the WNIT title game, then at Connecticut on Nov. 30. The Huskies and Tar Heels, of course, are currently the Nos. 1-2 teams in the country.
”I hope we have better luck against the third unbeaten,” OU coach Sherri Coale said during Tuesday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “They’re a typical Kanas State team: They play really smart and don’t beat themselves.”
True. What Coale didn’t say, though, is that the Wildcats typically don’t beat the Sooners, either. At least not in the past decade. Since 1998 – the second season at their respective schools for Coale and K-State’s Deb Patterson _ OU has won five in a row and 11 of the last 13 in this series.
The only time in that stretch that K-State won in Norman was in 2003, when Kendra Wecker took over for the Wildcats, with 24 points and nine rebounds.
(Quick aside: Wecker is now on the other side, working as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma, which was the last school she eliminated before she chose K-State. Despite that, Coale remained very supportive of Wecker throughout her college career, and the opportunity for them to work together now seems like karma’s second chance. While there were a lot of good things about Wecker spending her career at K-State, playing for Coale would have been a terrific experience for her. Learning from Coale about coaching will be now.)
Anyway, that 2003 loss to K-State came the season after OU’s Final Four trip, when the Sooners were swimming against the tide after losing both Caton Hill and Erin Higgins to ACL injuries on the same day in November 2002. The Sooners’ offensive struggles then were never more evident than that game against the Wildcats, a 74-45 loss after which Coale was despondent.
The next year, the Wildcats beat the Sooners in Manhattan in January … but then in March got blown out by OU at the Big 12 tournament in Dallas. That was a very fun, scrappy Sooners bunch that ended up winning the tournament, the only team in Big 12 history to take the title despite being outside the top four seeds and not having a first-round bye.
That 2004 semifinal loss may have cost K-State quite a lot, too … that’s the year the Wildcats got the unfortunate NCAA Tournament draw of being a No. 2 seed but having to play No. 7 seed Minnesota on the Gophers’ home court. Minnesota was seeded so low that year because Lindsay Whalen had injured her wrist and the NCAA selection committee felt uncertain about what her availability/effectiveness would be for the tournament.
Of course, she turned out to be exceedingly effective, and K-State was buried by the Gophers, who went on to the Final Four. So it ended up being a very difficult situation for the Wildcats, but one they may have avoided if they’d made the Big 12 tournament final _ and even more likely if they’d won the title.
The next year, 2005, the Sooners dominated their matchup with the Wildcats in Norman, 77-61. After that game, a frustrated Patterson was candid in acknowledging that it seemed like OU just had K-State’s number. Especially in Norman. In K-State’s last four defeats there – 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2007 _ the Wildcats have lost by an average of 19 points.
Last year, the Wildcat won the Big 12 regular-season title, but one of their three losses in league play was in Manhattan to Oklahoma, 68-65. In that game, the Wildcats got off to a strong start and led 38-28 at half. But the Paris twins led the Sooners’ second-half comeback. Courtney finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Ashley with 16 and 12.
K-State’s 6-foot senior Marlies Gipson has been remarkable in her career for how much she has carried the Wildcats’ inside game, and she’s going to have to stand tall again if K-State hopes to beat OU tonight.
Other things to watch for tonight in the Big 12:
*-Coaches always say every game is tough, and that’s really pretty much true, but … sometimes the schedule is worse than others. Such is the case tonight for Nebraska, which has to go to ticked-off Texas, and Colorado, which travels to aggravated Oklahoma State.
The Longhorns have lost two in a row and three of their last four. They weren’t happy with the way their game at Texas Tech ended Saturday. Neither was Oklahoma State with how things went at Iowa State.
Cowgirls coach Kurt Budke acknowledged during the teleconference that his team had a lousy practice on Monday because everybody – him included – was still stewing over the loss to the Cyclones. He hastened to add that they had to shake it off quickly, though, lest it snowball into something bigger.
*-Kansas, after an awful opener against Kansas State, is host to Missouri in the Border Showdown game. The Tigers bring in some momentum after pushing Texas A&M to the edge before losing on Saturday. MU coach Cindy Stein says this is a harder-working group of Tigers than last season, one that has more overall gumption to keep battling in games.
I’ll be candid: From my standpoint as a “Mo-Kansan” – grew up and went to college in Missouri, lived the last 12 years in Kansas – I wish this game “mattered” more in the overall scheme of women’s basketball. But there has only been one season – 1994 – in which both programs made the NCAA Tournament field. And that was actually Mizzou’s “freak” NCAA team, which came from out of left field to upset three higher seeds (including KU) and win the Big Eight tournament title and automatic bid – despite having an overall losing record.
MU, actually, has been the more successful program in the last eight seasons, going to the NCAA tournament three times (2001, 2004, 2006) while KU has not been since going in 2000. It seems pretty unlikely either will make it this year – a bleak but realistic thing to say in January.