MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State was on the defensive end late in its NCAA Tournament opener, and Breanna Lewis was standing near the lane with Drake guard Paige Greiner waving a hand right in her face.
Lewis looked at the nearby official and ruefully smiled.
The size mismatch between the seventh-seeded Wildcats and No. 10 seed Bulldogs was never more evident than that moment. Lewis used it to her advantage, too, pouring in 23 points and pulling down 11 rebounds while leading Kansas State to a 67-54 victory on Saturday.
"I thought this was going to be a game of style, who could get it in their style," Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. "The challenge of playing Drake for us, with a true center, is they're going to try to make her run all over the floor.
"When Bre has the post-presence she had today, we're a pretty good basketball team."
The Wildcats (23-10) took the lead in the game's opening minutes and never relinquished it, even though the Bulldogs (28-5) never made things easy. That allowed Kansas State to ease into a matchup with No. 2 seed Stanford on Monday night for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Like they had against Drake, the Wildcats will again have the benefit of playing at home.
The NCAA selection committee awarded them the right to host the opening rounds when Stanford had a conflict at Maples Pavilion, a testament to the crowd support Kansas State has enjoyed over the years.
"They were so loud. They brought the energy," said Kindred Wesemann, who added 16 points for the Wildcats. "If they bring the same energy Monday night, it'll be a lot of fun to play."
Blue Springs High School graduate Lizzy Wendell scored 17 for Drake, which carried the nation's second-longest winning streak at 22 games into the tournament. Becca Hittner added 13 points and Sammie Bachrodt had 10.
"We'll get into reflective mode at some point because every time I start to go there, tears start to come," Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk said. "But I'm really proud of our team, I'm really proud of our senior class for taking us on this amazing journey this season."
The Wildcats, who feature Blue Springs grad Kyle Middlebrook, raced to a 20-13 lead after the first quarter Saturday, but the game quickly devolved into a sloppy, muddled affair where turnovers seemed to be more popular than shots.
Kansas State had 12 in the first half. Drake had 10.
The turnovers were a big reason why the Bulldogs were able to chip away at their deficit, which grew to 27-20 early in the second quarter. It certainly wasn't their shooting: When Wendell knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:20 left, it was Drake's first field goal in nearly seven minutes.
The Bulldogs' cold shooting continued in the second half. They missed all seven of their 3s and were 4 for 16 from the field in the third quarter as Kansas State pressed its lead to 43-35.
It took a buzzer-beating basket by Wendell just to stay that close.
"We kind of let the defense get to us and we stopped moving the ball," Wendell said. "We could have moved the ball a little better, found those open shots."
Shaelyn Martin's nifty reverse layup and Kaylee Page's long 3-pointer early in the fourth pushed the Wildcats' lead to double-digits for the first time in the game, but the Wildcats still couldn't quite shake the first team ever to roll through the Missouri Valley unbeaten.
Drake was still within 54-47 when Wesemann hit the first of two 3-pointers down the stretch, and the Wildcats finally managed to put the game away to set up a date with Stanford.
NO JONAS: Drake's size disadvantage was made even bigger when Truman High School graduate Becca Jonas was unable to play because of a lingering injury. "Becca is our best post defender, so missing that piece didn't help us," Baranczyk said. "She tried, and we all knew she would give everything she had to try."
BIG PICTURE: Drake's coach was hoping for a better return to Manhattan, where she got her start as an assistant under former coach Deb Patterson. Baranczyk spent much of the game feuding with the officials, especially down the stretch, when a couple of 50-50 calls went against her team.
Kansas State improved to 14-3 at Bramlage Coliseum this season, and its only losses were to No. 1 overall seed Connecticut and Big 12 powerhouses Texas and Baylor.