Kansas State women's basketball falters at the end in disappointing NCAA Tournament loss

MANHATTAN — The Kansas State women's basketball team could live with its season coming to a close. It happens to everyone at some point.

What bothered the Wildcats about their 63-50 second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Colorado on Sunday at sold-out Bramlage Coliseum was the fact that they didn't put their best foot forward.

After battling tooth-and-nail with Colorado for the better part of three quarters, the Wildcats' inability to score — heck, to even create scoring opportunities — came back to bite them in a 15-point second half that allowed the Buffaloes to pull away at the end.

"Disappointing to lose this one. I think it's disappointing to lose when you don't play very well and you don't feel like that you did things as well as you could have, and there's always regret that comes with that," K-State coach Jeff Mittie said of the Wildcats, who finished their best season in his 10-year tenure with a 26-8 record. "You feel like you could have, should have done this.

"But at the end of the day, the game presents its challenges, and there are moments that we didn't handle those things very well. I thought our defense was good enough to win this game. We held them to 35% shooting, but ultimately turnovers were a big problem for us."

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Kansas State guard Serena Sundell (4) looks for an opening against Colorado's defense Sunday during their second-round NCAA Tournament game at Bramlage Coliseum.
Kansas State guard Serena Sundell (4) looks for an opening against Colorado's defense Sunday during their second-round NCAA Tournament game at Bramlage Coliseum.

The most staggering difference in the turnover battle — K-State had 22 and Colorado 15 — was the Buffaloes' ability to cash in on theirs. They turned the Wildcats' miscues into 19 points, and more tellingly a 16-2 advantage in fast-break points.

"Obviously, this really sucks," K-State super-senior guard Gabby Gregory said, fighting back tears. "I wasn't expecting to be done so early. But right now, I'm just so upset that we are not moving on.

Gregory, a transfer from Oklahoma who spent her last two seasons at K-State, saw her career end with a team-high 12 points, plus five rebounds. Junior guard Serena Sundell had 11 points and six assists, and senior center Ayoka Lee a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go with six blocked shots.

It was Colorado's defense against Lee, K-State's third-leading scorer all time and the career record holder for rebounds and blocked shots, that was most telling. The Buffaloes continually denied her the ball, thanks to a stellar effort by Colorado center Aaronette Vonleh, who in addition to her nine points and eight rebounds had seven steals.

"They did a great job on defense," Lee said. "They are just active."

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A turning point in the game came with 5:15 left in the third quarter with the score tied at 39-39. Sundell drove to the basket against Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod who went to the floor but was whistled for a foul. Sherrod appealed for a video review, showing that her mask was knocked off, and after a long discussion Sundell was assessed an intentional foul — her third — and the tide suddenly turned.

Maddie Nolan, who led Colorado with 11 points, knocked down both free throws, starting a 13-3 run to end the quarter and giving the Buffs a 62-52 cushion heading into the fourth.

Mittie said he saw Sundell's elbow go up in real time and had no beef with the call.

"They just said the elbow came up. By rule, above the shoulder, it turns into a two-shot penalty and the ball out of bounds," Mittie said. "We came out of that timeout fine.

"Our issues were we didn't take care of the ball well enough to have the consistent run back at them, and ultimately that led to a lot of inconsistency in our offensive attack today. We only scored 15 points in the second half, so we've got to look at what we can do better and that's it."

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Sundell acknowledged that the Wildcats struggled after the reversal of the foul.

"I didn't watch it back to see the replay or anything," she said. "I drove with my right hand and sometimes I'll have a chicken wing. I didn't mean to elbow her, and she made sure that she got that reviewed.

"I think the tide kind of did change. We tried to get the momentum back, but we couldn't get it back in our favor for long enough after that call."

The Wildcats scored the first four points of the fourth quarter and held Colorado scoreless for over six minutes, but they couldn't make enough headway against the Buffs' tight zone defense.

"We couldn't spread them out and get enough ball movement, and we couldn't go to a lot of things that we go to with Lee and have success," Mittie said. "Our post entries weren't good enough. Their centers were really active, sliding around, attacking the ball in the air."

For K-State, it was the final career game for Gregory. Lee, who missed two seasons with injuries, could still choose to use her COVID year and come back, but already has been in Manhattan for sixth year. She said she has yet to decide on her future.

Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @arnegreen.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Offensive struggles ultimately did Kansas State women's basket ball in