Seemingly the entire town of Clay Center, Kan., packed inside Bramlage Coliseum, filling it to the rafters along with 10,000 more Wildcat fans to pay tribute to the single greatest player in Kansas State history.
With purple and silver confetti raining down on the near-capacity crowd at the final buzzer, marking an 85-73 win and the culmination of another undefeated home season, what a celebration it became.
The crowd stayed late, cheering, honoring perhaps the greatest basketball team in Wildcat history -- and the player on which the program was built. Coach Deb Patterson was beaming as the lights darkened inside Bramlage and a video montage paid tribute to Nicole Ohlde. The lyrics to the song played -- "These are the days you'll remember" -- are perhaps most fitting, as no Wildcat fan will ever forget the infectious smile and unparalleled game. Quietly lowered from the rafters was Ohlde's jersey, honoring the last time No. 3 will ever be worn in a women's basketball game. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, President Jon Wefald, Athletic Director Tim Weiser and Patterson all stood watching as Ohlde whisked away tears with her parents, receiving the recognition, admiration and chants of "Ohlde, Ohlde."
"You gotta remember these days," Patterson said at the ceremony, leading all of Bramlage Coliseum in a bow. "This is one of the most phenomenal players Kansas State has ever seen. These have been some of the best days of our lives. She is absolutely the best ever. Great job, Nicole."
Then Ohlde took the microphone to another roar. "Wow, this is just crazy to me," Ohlde told the crowd. "I don't even know what to say, really. My teammates told me first of all to thank the academy -- just kidding. Thanks to everybody for coming out all the time and supporting us. This is just an honor for me, and I don't know what anybody else says, but this is the best place to play college basketball. I was truly blessed when I had the opportunity to come here. It was one of the best decisions of my life."
And then the jersey was raised to the rafters as the Alma Mater was played, and the final thank yous between a grateful Wildcat home crowd and the team that loved them were said. Led by Wecker, the Cats paraded around Bramlage one last time this season -- one last time with Dutmer, Newsom and, of course, Ohlde, who took the first snip as the Cats cut down the nets to the sounds of Right Said Fred, "Stand up, stand up, for the champions, for the champions…"
All of that pomp and circumstance came after the senior All-American scored a game-high 21 points and No. 9 Kansas State used a 13-1 run out of halftime to rip No. 9 Texas Tech and capture a share of their first ever Big 12 regular-season championship, earning them a No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas.
Senior Amy Dutmer, also playing in her final home game, scored 15 points and hit 5-of-8 3-pointers and little-used senior Kimmery Newsom hit the floor for the final three minutes and scored 3 points. Each of them received their own curtain-call to a standing ovation as chants of KSU echoed throughout the Bramlage corridors.
"It's something we all dreamed of," Dutmer said. "I'm so proud of everybody. Tears were in my eyes when Ohlde was talking. I can't really explain the excitement."
Nobody really could, although everybody took a try. Megan Mahoney said she was blessed to be able to play with Ohlde and the seniors, while Kendra Wecker thanked them for "three great years."
Wecker scored 17 on 8-of-13 shooting in a supporting role, Mahoney had 9 points and 10 rebounds, and Laurie Koehn said farewell to Ohlde, her long-time roommate, with a 14-point performance.
"Our first thought was to get a win," Wecker said. "We wanted to get a championship tonight. There might have been a little more pressure, but it's a special night."
And that night belonged to Ohlde, who received a thundering ovation as she was taken out of the game with 1:04 remaining. She was very near perfect in the game, making 7-of-12 shots from the field and 7-of-8 free throws. She also pulled down seven rebounds and dished out eight assists.
"Ohlde might get overlooked in her complete game sometimes," Mahoney said. "Sometimes her passing ability and presence in the lane (aren't noticed.) That's how she can play. It's great to be on her team -- I'd hate to be on the opposition."
Even Tech players showered Ohlde with praise.
"It was her night," Tech center Jolee Ayers-Curry said. "It was her senior night, they retired her jersey, she played a great game and she deserves all the recognition she gets."
Texas Tech opened the game a bit shell-shocked, as Kansas State (23-4, 14-2) scored on five of its first seven possessions and quickly built a 12-2 lead three minutes into the game. After air-balling her first 3-point attempt, Dutmer knocked down her next three.
"I took the same shots I normally do," Dutmer said. "Tonight they were falling. It's a team thing -- we know what to do in certain situations."
Tech coach Marsha Sharp was forced to burn a timeout, but it settled the Lady Raiders down. Erin Grant knocked down a 3-pointer to close to within 15-7 and Tech matched the Cats basket for basket over the next five minutes.
That's when the Lady Raiders (24-6, 10-6) made a charge, scoring seven unanswered points to close a 21-11 gap to 21-18 in a span of less than two minutes. From there it was a battle to halftime, as pushing in the low post and all-out shoving in the backcourt led to a flurry of late fouls.
Still, two 3-pointers from Mahoney and a pair of Ohlde free throws allowed the Wildcats to take 33-29 halftime lead.
"I felt we had really gotten passive after the first eight to 10 minutes," Patterson said. "We lost our focus and aggressiveness. We needed a new emphasis on what we were looking for. Laurie hitting that first 3 was big for us."
Koehn knocked down a 3-pointer to open the half and was fouled, making the free throw for a 4-point play and sparking the 13-1 run that eventually proved too much for the Lady Raiders.
" Texas Tech is a very lethal team and their ability to come back is very potent," Ohlde said. "We came out aggressive in the second half and made some stops on the defensive end."
The Cats built a 20-point lead by the 7:23 mark, but the celebrating had already started on the Wildcat bench. By the time the clocks read zero, Mahoney was jumping on the media table and leading cheers, freshman guard Claire Coggins was dancing, Patterson was clapping and the confetti was falling.
"It's something you see on TV all the time," Wecker said, "champions cutting down the nets. It's something you dream about as a kid."
Alesha Robertson led the Lady Raiders with 16 points while Casey Jackson scored 11, but Tech made just 1-of-6 3-pointers in the second half. Kansas State, meanwhile, knocked down 13-of-25 3s in the game.
"You have to pick your poison, because obviously Ohlde is bigger than we are in the paint and Wecker is a great athlete," Sharp said. "I think they deserve to win. They shot well enough and played well enough to keep us off balance."
But Ohlde was the first to say the dream isn't over. Nine games remain -- three to win the Big 12 title and six more on the road to the national title -- before she said the dream will truly be over.
"It was an incredible atmosphere tonight," she said. "Everybody was doing their job and to know we shared a title -- that's quite an honor."
Long after Ohlde and the rest of the Wildcats left the locker room, signing autographs for more than 100 fans who had waited patiently for close to an hour after the game, Patterson was left alone to ponder life without the building block upon which her entire program has been crafted.
"For women's basketball, Nicole Ohlde epitomizes everything -- excellence of character, effort, the abilities she brings to the floor. She's sort of a standard bearer of what we hope this program will be built upon," Patterson said. "If you're in it for the players, then you have to know how special being a part of tonight really was. It's priceless."
Texas Tech 24-6, 10-6
Dabbs 2-4 6-8 10, Jackson 3-6 5-6 11, Ayers-Curry 2-6 0-0 4, Grant 3-7 2-2 10, Ritchie 0-5 1-2 1, Baughman 1-3 1-2 3, Clark 5-6 0-0 10, Davis 4-7 0-1 8, Robertson 4-13 6-6 16
Kansas State 23-4, 14-2
Dutmer 5-8 0-0 15, Wecker 8-13 1-1 17, Ohlde 7-12 7-8 21, Koehn 4-11 3-3 14, Mahoney 3-6 0-0 9, Newsom 1-1 1-2 3, McIntyre 1-3 0-0 3, Domenico 1-2 0-0 3, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Madden 0-3 0-0 0, McFarland 0-0 0-0 0
THE OHLDE FILE
* 2003 WBCA Kodak All-American, Associated Press first-team All-American, USBWA All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year, first-team All-Big 12, Naismith Player of the Year Finalist, Wade Trophy Finalist, three-time Big 12 Player of the Week, Academic All-Big 12
* Member of the gold-medal winning 2003 USA Basketball World Championship for Young Women Team
* 2002 Associated Press honorable-mention All-American, Kodak District V All-American, ESPN The Magazine Center of the Year Finalist, first-team All-Big 12, Academic All-Big 12
* Member of the gold-medal winning 2002 USA Basketball World Championship for Young Women Qualifying Team
* 2001 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, third-team All-Big 12, first-team Women's Basketball News All-Freshman Team, three-time Big 12 Rookie of the Week
* Kansas State's all-time leading scorer (men's or women's), all time leading rebounded, and ranks third all-time in career scoring in Big 12 history
* Most decorated player in Kansas State basketball history (men's or women's), including ranking first in blocks, free throws, free throw attempts, field goals made and career minutes played. The only Wildcat to have 1,500 career points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 150 blocks in a career
* Has 44 career 20+ point games, four 30+ games and has started 119 consecutive games dating to her freshman season
* The only player in Kansas State history (men's or women's) to have her jersey retired
Special night in Bramlage Coliseum
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