The quest begins

Kansas State was bounced in the semi-finals of last season's Big 12 Tournament, but this group of women seems different. The loss to Texas Tech last year was just part of a late-season meltdown, but this time around the Wildcats are streaking into the postseason.

"The last two years we've fallen short," guard Megan Mahoney said. "We know that."

The Wildcats' only lost two of their last 22 games, avenging one of them with a thumping of Nebraska and the other coming to Big 12 No. 1 seed Texas, the regular-season co-champions awaiting the Wildcats on the opposite side of the bracket.

But first, No. 2 seed Kansas State will have to get past Missouri, who thumped Oklahoma State in the first round Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. from Reunion Arena in Dallas, and the game will be televised by Fox Sports Net.

"We had the bye, which as good," senior Amy Dutmer said. "But there are so many things that go into the tournament. Anything can happen and we're just going to play the Kansas State way -- do what we do."

The Kansas State way is what brought the Wildcats their first conference title in Big 12 history, making the university the first league school to win three first-tier athletic titles. The volleyball team and football teams each won league championships last fall.

Since losing to Nebraska in Lincoln on Jan. 24, the Wildcats have reeled off a series of games that is nearly unprecedented. Winning margins since then came by 20, 9, 14, 26, 30 and 20 during one stretch, including thumpings of three top-20 teams.

But aside from losing at Texas, where the Longhorns will carry the Big 12's longest home-court winning streak into next season, perhaps the Cats' toughest game came against their Big 12 Tournament foe Missouri.

In that thriller from the Hearnes Center, Kansas State rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit behind Kendra Wecker's 26 points. She was one-upped, though, by Missouri's top player, Evan Unrau. Unrau had a career-high 40 points in the double-overtime Wildcat victory, a 93-90 marathon, but her final shot with less than two seconds remaining missed and Kansas State escaped.

Is Missouri looking for redemption? You bet.

But if not redemption from that heart-breaker, perhaps from the teams' first meeting in Manhattan, when the Wildcats jumped all over the Tigers to the tune of 95-59.

It's hard to argue Missouri isn't a different team, though, more than two months removed from that thumping. The Tigers ripped Oklahoma State by 23 to open the Big 12 Tournament and the fact that they have a No. 7 is an aberration. Four different players scored in double-figures for the Tigers -- not unlike the balanced scoring some have come to expect from Kansas State -- as Missouri built an insurmountable lead by halftime.

"I thought they played really hard today," Tiger coach Cindy Stein said. "I asked the squad to come out and give me 40 minutes with no fear, take it to the basket, play great defense, and we did that, so I'm very proud of them. From the defensive end, we created a lot of turnover and got the ball back the way we wanted it, but we weren't able to convert, had we converted, the game would've been a lot closer and given us a lot more momentum. Overall, I just wanted us to fight till the end and we did, so I'm very proud of the way they played."

But now they have to face Kansas State, a team coming off an emotional Nicole Ohlde night in which her jersey was retired, she and two fellow seniors said goodbye to Bramlage Coliseum, and the Cats captured a share of their first Big 12 title.

Tough draw.

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