Junior Ayoka Lee has been one of the biggest stars in the Big 12 since her freshman year at Kansas State, but the Wildcats’ team success is just now catching up with hers. Lee redshirted in 2018-19 when the team earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The two seasons she actually played in prior to this one saw Kansas State go 25-31 (13-23 Big 12). Albeit, one of those seasons (2019-20) was decent and last year was the only true disaster (9-18, 3-15 Big 12).
Kansas State entered the rankings at No. 25 on Jan. 10 — its first time in the Top 25 since 2017. The Wildcats are back at No. 25 now and are one of the teams to talk about in the Big 12, thanks in large part to Lee, who made history by scoring an NCAAW Division I-record 61 points against No. 18 Oklahoma on Jan. 23.
Meanwhile, Kansas State’s opponent Wednesday night, the No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones, are living up to expectations far better than they did last year. In 2020-21, they started the season at No. 15 but were merely receiving votes for most of the season and even fell out of that tier in the end. They also suffered a heartbreaking loss to Jordan Nixon and the Texas A&M Aggies in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2021-22, Iowa State has risen, not fallen, climbing all the way to No. 7 at one point after starting the season at No. 12. Through 17 games their only loss was to No. 15 LSU and they had wins over No. 21 Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas State. The victory over the Wildcats was by three in Manhattan, Kan. Wednesday night’s game is at Iowa State.
The Cyclones lost both their 18th and 19th contests. They’ve won two in a row since then, but are looking for a big-time win Wednesday. Kansas State has also lost recently, falling to No. 13 Texas by 18 last Wednesday in its first game after Lee’s record-setting performance, which came in a 29-point win. The Wildcats won their most recent game against TCU but, like Iowa State, would like to get on a much longer winning streak.
The Cyclones have such high expectations because of WNBA prospect Ashley Joens, a senior who is averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this year. They also have star sophomores Lexi Donarski (15.1 points per game) and Emily Ryan (11.7 points and 6.7 assists per game). We’ll see if Iowa State’s big three can out-perform Lee on Wednesday night.
No. 25 Kansas State Wildcats (16-5, 6-3 Big 12) vs No. 11. Iowa State Cyclones (18-3, 7-2 Big 12)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ames, IA
How to watch/listen: Big 12 ESPN+/K-State Sports Network or K-STATEHD.TV or Cyclones.tv
Key to the matchup: Iowa State has a few more advantages statistically than Kansas State does, which makes sense since they are ranked higher. However, the only advantage that is drastic is 3-point shooting percentage: the Cyclones shoot 37.6 percent compared to the Wildcats’ 30.4 percent. In addition, Iowa State makes 4.4 more threes per game. The Cyclones need to take advantage of this strength and use it to create separation. Kansas State on the other hand has a solid 3-point percentage defense (28.8 percent), so it will be strength on strength. We’ll see if the Wildcats can slow down Iowa State’s sharpshooters.