We all know threes are harder to make than twos, but the Kansas State Wildcats didn’t care Sunday night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, attemping 20 threes to just eight twos in the first half and making eight of their threes and just one of their twos. Their success from beyond the arc in the opening two frames, led by Gabby Gregory (3-of-5) and Sarah Shematsi (3-of-9), kept them in a game that their rivals, the Kansas Jayhawks, were otherwise dominating.
The Jayhawks won points in the paint 24-2 in the first half, with star center Taiyanna Jackson going for 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Wildcats trailed by just 10 at the break because of their threes. They then cut it to two early in the third and to one early in the fourth. But Kansas led by at least five over the final 6:47 of the contest and held on to win 85-72.
The Jayhawks (14-5, 4-4 Big 12) are hoping to still have a say in the Big 12 and national picture after losing four of their last five entering Sunday. The losses were to four of the five teams ahead of them in the Big 12 standings: Iowa State (No. 4 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 27 Bracketology), Oklahoma (No. 5 seed), Baylor (No. 6 seed) and Texas (No. 7 seed). Kansas itself was a No. 8 seed in the Jan. 27 Bracketology.
So the Jayhawks, after a great non-conference run highlighted by a 77-50 win over now-No. 19 Arizona, had suffered from a difficult stretch against the best of the Big 12. They were able to take their frustrations out on the ninth-place Wildcats (13-9, 2-7 Big 12) and take care of business. Maybe this win will give them the momentum they need to beat the top teams. They face rematches with Baylor and Texas over their next two games and will also play Oklahoma and Iowa State again.
Jackson finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, a season-high six assists and four steals. Wyvette Mayberry was absolutely huge as well with a career-high 26 points and three swipes. The team’s leading scorer from a year ago, Holly Kersgieter, added 16 points, 12 boards and five helpers.
Gregory opened the game’s scoring with a three. Three-to-nothing would be Kansas State’s only lead of the contest. Mayberry answered with two threes to put Kansas up 6-3. There was then a stretch where Jackson scored or assisted on five of six Jayhawk baskets while the Wildcats made just one shot (a three). Off a Mayberry steal, Jackson assisted Zakiyah Franklin in transition to make it 14-6 Kansas at the 2:35 mark of the first. Later, after a Zsófia Telegdy mid-range make from the right baseline, Jackson provided the highlight of the run with a steal-turned-fast-break layup that made it 18-6.
After the first quarter ended, the lights in Allen Fieldhouse went out and there was a 15-minute delay. Out of the delay, Franklin made a nice quick-thinking pass to Jackson in the lane for a layup that made it 20-10. At the 7:12 mark of the second, Jackson made a quick spin move after a catch in the paint for a layup that made it 26-15. Yet, the Wildcats were hanging in there with threes. A Brylee Glenn three cut it to 22-13 at 8:02 and then back-to-back Wildcat threes after Jackson made it 26-15 cut it to 26-21 at 5:15 remaining in the first half.
Luckily for the Jayhawks, Kersgieter was there to give Kansas State a taste of its own medicine. Back-to-back Kersgieter threes, bridged together by a Sanna Storm steal, made it 35-23 Kansas with 3:52 to go before halftime. The Jayhawks would lead 39-29 at the break.
The third quarter saw the Wildcats cut it to 43-41 on a Shematsi three at the 7:22 mark. Kansas answered with a 9-1 run capped by a Franklin three to push its lead back to 10 at 52-42 with 4:13 to go in the frame. It would lead 56-50 entering the fourth.
A Jaelyn Glenn three for Kansas State cut it to 60-59 at the 7:33 mark of the fourth. But Jackson responded with a 3-point play and then Shematsi (12 points, six rebounds) fouled out at 7:15. On the ensuing possession after Shematsi’s fifth foul, Mayberry made a three to push it to 66-59.
The Wildcats cut it to 67-62 with a B. Glenn floater at 4:37 remaining and to 77-71 on a Gregory layup (after a backcourt steal) at 1:36, but would get no closer the rest of the way. Mayberry made two free throws at 1:30 to push Kansas’ lead to 79-71 and then a Chandler Prater steal on the ensuing Kansas State possession may have eliminated the Wildcats’ last bit of energy. Mayberry made a layup at 52 seconds remaining to make it 81-71 and then Kansas State was forced to foul.
Gregory, the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 at 19.3 points per game, finished with 25 points (four threes) and three assists. J. Glenn added 12 points, six boards, five helpers and two steals in defeat.
The Wildcats ended up winning 3-point makes 12-9. Both teams shot around 35 percent from beyond the arc. The Jayhawks won points in the paint 36-18, so not quite as lopsided as it was at halftime.