COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Kansas State second-year coach Jeff Mittie entered the year hoping to move the program forward. He and the Wildcats took a big step in that direction Friday with their first NCAA Tournament in four years.
Megan Deines had 14 points, 11 in the second half, to help No. 9 seed Kanas State rally past eighth-seeded George Washington 56-51. The Wildcats will face top-seeded host South Carolina on Sunday night for the chance to reach the Sweet 16.
“This is very rewarding,” Mittie said. “You don’t take these for granted because these things are hard to get. We’re excited about that.”
Mittie took over a program two seasons ago that had not been the NCAAs since 2012. He had won five NCAA games with TCU before taking over the Wildcats and sweated out his latest tournament victory after his team’s sluggish start had them trailing 31-22 at the half.
“We knew we only had 20 minutes to play,” Deines said. “We knew we had to get rebounds and let our defense create our offense.”
That’s what Kansas State (19-12) did. It started with a 9-0 burst to tie the game, before adding a 14-5 run in the third and fourth quarters to grab control of a game they looked certain to lose. Deines scored all her second-half points in those stretches, including a foul shot that put the Wildcats up for the first time all game, 39-38, with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
George Washington (26-7) kept things tight, trailing 52-51 on Jonquel Jones foul shot with 20.1 seconds left.
But the Wildcats made four of six free throws down the stretch to open the NCAA Tournament with a victory for the eighth time in their last nine appearances.
Jones had 20 points, 13 rebound and six blocks for the Colonials.
George Washington lost an opening NCAA game for just the fourth time in 17 appearances.
The Colonials had several chances to bail themselves out and move on. After the Wildcats’ Brianna Craig missed both foul shots with 20.1 seconds left, she got her own rebound and was sent to the foul line once more – this time making both.
Jones took a long 3-pointer on George Washington’s next trip down with 7 seconds left that was off the mark.
“You only get the door open so many times,” George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipis said.
Breanna Lewis had 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocks for the Wildcats.