Kansas St.-George Washington Preview
Kansas State let out a collective sigh of relief when its name finally popped up on the screen. The Wildcats, losers of their last three as part of a late-season swoon, were heading to the NCAA Tournament.
That's a far different feeling from what George Washington experienced after winning its second straight Atlantic 10 tournament and securing an automatic bid.
The way coach Jeff Mittie sees it, Friday night's matchup between his ninth-seeded Wildcats (18-12) and the eight-seeded Colonials (26-6) is another in a string of do-or-die games his team has been playing for quite some time.
"I feel like we've been in the NCAA Tournament for two months now," Mittie said.
Kansas State got off to a 10-1 start, with the only defeat coming against No. 1 Connecticut on Nov. 23. But it dropped its first four in Big 12 play and is in the midst of its third losing streak of at least three games this season.
After a 74-65 loss to then-No. 22 West Virginia on March 5 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament dropped their record against ranked opponents to 1-7, the Wildcats weren't sure if they'd receive an at-large berth.
Now that they're in for the first time since 2012, they're all business. They'll mainly lean on Breanna Lewis, their first-team all-Big 12 center who finished third in the conference with 16.7 points and 2.5 blocks per game.
"It's just being prepared," Lewis said. "Knowing where we have to make improvements, gradually improving each game and not just looking back on the past and moving forward."
Lewis will be matched up plenty with Jonquel Jones, who leads George Washington with 16.0 points per game. Her 14.7 rebounds a contest top the nation and were more than five boards more on average than any other player in the Atlantic 10.
Jones accomplished all that despite battling a shoulder injury that forced her to sit out 10 games. She finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks as the Colonials beat Duquesne 63-60 in the A-10 championships game March 6 to head into the tournament on a five-game winning streak.
George Washington is holding opponents to 32.7 percent shooting over that run after the Lady Dukes converted 31.3 percent from the floor.
''We just let our defense kind of close the game out for us,'' Jones said. ''Sometimes the shots are not going, but the defense is something we can always ... hang our hats on.''
This will be the first meeting since 1995, with the winner moving on to face top-seeded South Carolina or 16th-seed Jacksonville on Sunday.