The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the Baylor Bears, 68-59, in the Big 12 women’s basketball conference opener for both teams at Manhattan, Kansas, on Jan. 2.
The win was huge for Kansas State (11-2, 1-0 in Big 12). The Wildcats had lost 36 straight games to Baylor (10-3, 0-1) and had not beaten the Bears since 2004. Their last meeting, on Feb. 27, 2021, saw Baylor beat Kansas State, 85-49.
The Bears, who were No. 10 in the country going into the game, will likely fall out of the Top 10. The Bears have the nation’s longest current streak in the AP Top 10 —137 straight weeks. Kansas State probably put an end to that, and likely paved their way to the Top 25.
Wildcats center Ayoka Lee scored at least 30 points for the eighth time in her career, and the fifth time this season. She finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds, along with three steals and two blocked shots. Serena Sundell added 10 points, and all 10 Wildcats that played scored, as the team shot 51 percent from the floor.
Baylor was down to seven scholarship players due to health and safety protocols. Missing were Jaden Owens and Kendra Gillispie. Kansas State wasn’t missing any players due to COVID-19, but ESPN announcers said that Lee wasn’t 100 percent for health reasons that had nothing to do with COVID.
The Bears shot 38.9 percent from the floor and were led by Ja’Mee Asberry and Jordan Lewis, who had 14 points each. Defending national player of the year NaLyssa Smith had 12 points and seven rebounds. The Bears had a season-high 22 turnovers. Not to be outdone, Kansas State had a season-high 23 turnovers.
Kansas State has as large as a 15-point lead, but Baylor cut the lead to four points with 1:10 left in the game. But the Wildcats hung on for their biggest win in years.
Here are our three takeaways from the game.
NaLyssa Smith vs. Ayoka Lee
Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith and Kansas State center Ayoka Lee was the centerpiece matchup. Smith averaged 21.1 points and a national-leading 13.1 rebounds per game entering the contest. Lee averaged a Big 12-leading 23.8 points per game, along with 11.1 rebounds per game. Plus, Lee led the nation in blocked shots (48).
In the first half, it was not the ‘explosive’ matchup that was anticipated. Both players had trouble getting on track. Smith was having trouble scoring, thanks to K-State’s 2-3 zone. Lee was in foul trouble, especially in the second quarter, and Baylor’s interior defense paid a great deal of attention to her with regular double-teams. Both players had four points each in the first half.
In the third quarter, Lee had enough. The 6-foot-6 center scored a whopping 19 points in the quarter, pushing herself to 23 points for the game and while that didn’t extend Kansas State’s lead much, it did keep the Wildcats ahead by 11 going into the fourth quarter.
By game’s end, Lee scored 28 of her 32 points in the second half.
As for Smith, with the Bears being so short-handed, she played every minute of the game. Baylor put her in space, put her inside and she just had an off-night. Smith shot just 33 percent from the field and only shot six free throws. But she wasn’t the only Bear that had issues shooting the ball.
Smith and Lee will meet again on Feb. 16 at Baylor.
The Supporting Cast
As noted, Baylor had just seven scholarship players due to COVID-19. Kansas State was basically at full strength. Since neither Smith nor Lee started strong, it was up to the two teams’ supporting casts to set the tone. And Kansas State won that battle.
The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half and the players around Lee helped the Wildcats build an 18-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats maintained that the rest of the game.
Key to that was Serena Sundell, who had 10 points and handled the ball well despite Baylor’s constant pressure. But, just as important was the fact that every other Wildcat scored, meaning that the Wildcats did enough to force the Bears to pay attention to everyone on the floor.
Baylor’s biggest problem was shooting. Without Owens and Gillispie, and with Smith having trouble getting on track until the second half, the Bears needed players like Jordan Lewis, Ja’Mee Asberry, Sarah Andrews and Queen Egbo to give the Bears some offense. Egbo fouled out and wasn’t a factor. Asberry finally got it going from the 3-point line (4-of-7). But Baylor shot just 30 percent overall from the 3-point line. No one for Baylor shot consistently enough on Sunday.
Baylor wants a fast pace, and Kansas State used its 2-3 zone to slow it down. That proved to be a key part of the game plan for the Wildcats. Sometimes, they Wildcats played it just in the half court. Sometimes, they extended it past half court and picked up the Bears bringing up the ball. Zone defense is a useful tool in slowing down a team like Baylor. The zone did two other things. First, it make getting the ball to Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith more difficult. That, in turn, forced Baylor to be more reliant on the 3-point shot, an area where it doesn’t, overall, excel.
As for Baylor, it stuck with man-to-man defense and it was hard to fault the Bears for that, especially when it forced 23 Wildcat turnovers. But, Kansas State overcame the pressure with good shooting from outside early, which loosened up the paint for Lee (especially after Egbo got into foul trouble). Baylor played a quality defensive game. The Wildcats just overcame it with quality shooting and the strategic use of its zone on defense.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.