DALLAS — Missouri is hoping to slip into the NCAA Tournament and Kansas State is focused on winning the national championship. The difference showed Wednesday.
The Tigers were absolutely no match for the Wildcats, who earned a 79-58 win in the Big 12 Conference Tournament quarterfinals at Reunion Arena.
Kansas State (24-4) dominated nearly every aspect of the game from start to finish, and Missouri coach Cindy Stein said the score could have been much worse if Kansas State’s best players didn’t watch from the bench for most of the second half.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in how we played,” Stein said. “At the same time, I think we faced a team today that can play for a national championship.”
Second seed Kansas State’s blueprint for success was almost identical to Missouri’s the night before: jump out to a big lead early and sit back and relax for the rest of the game.
14-0 run sparks Wildcats' rout
Stretch James’ basket with 18:25 left in the first half gave Missouri a 2-0 lead, but the Tigers advantage was brief for Kansas State’s Laurie Koehn made back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a 14-0 run.
The Wildcats shot 66.7 percent in the first half, including 8-of-11 from 3-point range. Kansas State led 48-25 at halftime.
Kansas State’s Kendra Wecker made 8-of-11 shots in the first half, matching her season average of 17 points before intermission. Wecker finished with a game-high 25 points.
“They were red hot,” Stein said. “If we had a defensive breakdown they scored and when we played great defense they scored.”
Kansas State’s quick start was reminiscent of Missouri’s start Tuesday, when the Tigers shot 65.5 percent in the first half against Oklahoma State and held a 48-26 lead at halftime. No. 7 seed Missouri had no such luck against Kansas State, making one basket in the first 6:31 and shooting 29 percent in the first half.
“I think we came out really flat and they capitalized on that,” Missouri senior Evan Unrau said. “We had a lot of stupid turnovers and we just weren’t taking care of the ball, and they are such a good team you can’t do that against them.”
Unrau unable to match performance from last meeting
Unrau, who scored a career-high 40 points in Missouri’s double-overtime loss against Kansas State on Feb. 22, was held scoreless until she made two free throws with 3:30 left in the first half.
Unrau finished with 17 points, but 11 of those came in the second half when the game was virtually out of Missouri’s reach. Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said she was pleased with her team’s ability to limit Unrau early.
“We obviously had a major preoccupation with Evan because of the great player she is,” Patterson said. “I thought we did a nice job of knowing where she was at all times, and, generally speaking, I think we made the shots she made challenging.”
The loss snapped Missouri’s four-game winning streak and is the Tigers’ seventh straight to Kansas State. The matchup was the third between the teams this season, and it resembled the Wildcats’ 95-59 win Jan. 7 much more than it did last month’s double overtime thriller.
“I think we knew they’re a great team and they’ve only gotten better since the last time we played them,” Wecker said. “We were focused mostly on us what we needed to do as a team.”
Kansas State advances to play No. 6 seed Oklahoma at 8:30 p.m. today in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals. The winner of that game will face either top seed Texas or No. 5 seed Baylor on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game.
Missouri now plays waiting game
Meanwhile, Missouri will wait until Sunday to learn whether they will play in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers finished seventh in a conference many expect will send at least seven teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Several coaches, including Patterson, said they believe Missouri deserves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri will likely be invited to the WNIT if it is not selected to the NCAA Tournament, and Stein said her team will begin preparing for the postseason.
“I think I’m one of those people that I don’t get really wrapped up into a lot of things that I can’t control,” Stein said. “I know we are going to play in the postseason and we hope it’s the NCAA and if not it is the WNIT.
“We are going to regroup and get going because whatever tournament we are invited to we plan on winning.”