As the milliseconds ticked down in the third quarter of the Kansas State women’s 68-56 win over Oregon on Saturday, junior forward Emilee Ebert caught a inbound pass from a teammate and just barely put it up in time to make it count.
The shot was emblematic of how seemingly everything, even when you measure in milliseconds, was going the Wildcats (10-2) way Saturday night against the Ducks, a team that came into Bramlage Coliseum receiving votes in the Associated Press poll and ranked 22nd in the Coaches Poll.
“I’m just proud of our team,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “I think any coach who watches their team grow up through stages of the season is really proud of them preparing and coming together. We had some things that I’m really proud of our group for being able to fight through.”
Oregon (6-4) came into the game averaging 48.3% shooting from the field which led the Pac-12 and ranked fifth in the country. The Ducks have shot 43% or better from the field eight of their nine first games heading into their game versus K-State.
They also are tied for 12th in the country in opponent field goal percentage (33%).
On Saturday, the Wildcats obliterated both stats, both holding Oregon to 33.3% while shooting 42.1% from the field themselves.
The Ducks also brought a fair amount of size as four players 6-foot-4 or taller registered minutes in the game.
Mittie partially credits a challenging non-conference schedule — which included road games at the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country — for preparing his team for the challenges that they both faced and overcame versus Oregon.
“I would say that with our schedule, you wonder if you’re going to reap the rewards of playing (No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 North Carolina State) and I think we are,” Mittie said. “We handled South Dakota State in terms of a tough road situation and we faced a lot of size versus South Carolina and faced a lot of size versus NC State. Not quite as much as Oregon but similar. I think we found where we can be successful and where we need to cover up our flaws and I think our team has responded to that well.”
K-State ran into some trouble early as Ayoka Lee picked up her first two fouls of the game in the first quarter, which limited her throughout the first half, despite K-State grabbing an early lead and — after a 2-2 tie — never relinquishing it throughout the duration.
Oregon cut the K-State lead to a single possession twice in the second quarter and in both instances, Ebert nailed threes to push the Wildcat advantage back to two possessions.
“I thought she was huge,” Mittie said. “She knocked the threes down early. I thought in the middle of the zone, she was making good reads in there. I don’t think we got it there as much as I wanted to, but when we got it there, good things were happening.”
Ebert ended the night with 15 points and was one of three Wildcats in double-figures on the night.
“I felt very in rhythm but that doesn’t happen without my teammates,” Ebert said. “I can’t do that alone. I give credit to them. I was just open and they found me and we took that to our advantage.”
Freshman Brylee Gleen also had 15 points to go along with three assists and three rebounds and Lee, despite the early foul trouble, managed another impressive double-double, scoring 19 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks including a forceful one-handed shutdown in the closing minutes of the game.
The double-double was her 37th of her career and her eighth this season.
Lee also credited their early season experience versus two of the top-ranked teams in the country in how well both she and her team performed.
“I think we prepared really well,” Lee said. “We knew what to do and what moves would work. It wasn’t anything that we hadn’t seen before.”
Senior reserve point guard Cymone Goodrich was injured in practice the day before, forcing freshman point guard Serena Sundell to play the full 40 minutes. It wasn’t her best day scoring-wise, but she did turn in eight assists and had just one turnover to go along with seven points.
“The bottom line for a point guard is, is your team successful?” Mittie said. “She’s doing that very well. She doesn’t look over and ask to come out. I’d ignore her anyway. So maybe she’s learned that already in her young career, but she fought hard through fatigue tonight and I thought we were victorious because of it.”
K-State led 38-33 at the half and, after Oregon nailed a three to start the third quarter which got them within two, the Wildcats rattled off a 7-0 run, once again distancing themselves.
“I thought we made a lot of big plays when they made a run at us and I thought that was the key for the game,” Mittie said. “We were able to hold them at arm’s length. I thought we battled through some fatigue. I thought our team fought hard and our team made a lot of right plays in the right moments to keep them away from us and then we just kind of persevered throughout the game.”
K-State extended its lead to 10 with 2:40 to play in the third quarter.
Oregon cut the lead to six with under a minute to play but six-straight Wildcat points wrapped up the big double-digit victory.
A final timeout by K-State called with four second left and a loud roar echoed out as “Sandstorm” played, officially ringing in the win. The entire announced crowd of 5,290 rose to their feet.
“I thought the crowd was really good,” Mittie said. “I hope they enjoyed it and I hope they come back. I think our team is a fun team to watch. I really do. I think they play the game the right way. I think they play the game unselfishly. I told them going into the fourth, you’re not going to play perfect. Just play hard, play unselfish and play together. You do those things a lot of good things are going to happen and I think they’re trying to do those things.”
The win is K-State’s third-straight.
The Wildcats will wrap up their non-conference slate on Wednesday when they host the University of Illinois-Chicago.