KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — You can bet that Texas saw what Kansas State forward Ayoka Lee did to Oklahoma last weekend.
It didn’t seem to help a whole lot.
Sure, the ninth-ranked Longhorns managed to shut down the rest of the No. 25 Wildcats in a 66-48 victory Wednesday night in Austin, but they didn’t slow down the national player of the year candidate. Lee still poured in 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked a couple shots in another exceptional performance in a season full of them.
None more so than her 61-point effort against the Sooners, which set the Division I record for a women’s player in a single game.
Asked whether Lee will have to get used to all the defensive attention after her big game she replied: “Yeah, but I don’t think it’s anything new.”
That’s because the word on the 6-foot-6 junior from Byron, Minnesota, has been out around the Big 12 for a while.
Lee eclipsed 20 points nine times during her freshman season, including a 24-point overtime outburst against the Sooners, and she had 12 games of at least 20 points and three of at least 30 during her follow-up campaign — including games of 37 points and 31 points against Oklahoma.
But it’s been this season, during a time of the year that women’s college basketball tends to be overshadowed by the NFL playoffs along with the upcoming Olympics, that Lee has captured attentioni.
She began the season with 43 points against Central Arkansas, an incredible effort that some naysayers wrote off as coming against a lower-tier opponent. Then came a trio of 30-point games, including 39 in a win over South Dakota State, before Lee began to terrorize the Big 12: 32 points in beating No. 10 Baylor, 38 more in a last-second loss to ninth-ranked Iowa State and her nearly perfect performance against the Sooners that landed her in the record books.
Lee was 23 of 30 from the field, hitting the same number of field goals as the No. 14 Sooners, who only outscored her by four points in the 94-65 romp. She also was 15 of 17 from the foul line, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Incidentally, there were 39 teams that played the same day without scoring 61 points.
“I don’t think anyone is like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re just going to set a record today,'” Lee said. “I don’t know if my mindset really changed. I think in my mind in the fourth quarter it was like, ‘OK, keep playing low, keep getting into position.’”
Keep tormenting her favorite opponent, too.
“Honestly, you never want to be on this side of an NCAA record,” Oklahoma coach Jennifer Baranczyk said. “What’s another word for incredible? Outstanding, amazing, spectacular, All-American? Yes, all of those things.”
This isn’t the kind of thing that tends to happen at Kansas State (15-3, 5-3 Big 12), where women’s basketball has a proud tradition but has rarely has reached the upper crust of the game. Lee is the kind of player that tends to end up at UConn or South Carolina or one of the other perennial powerhouses.
So it makes sense that the school is taking full advantage of this moment.
Less than 24 hours after he big game, Kansas State announced ticket packages that would be sold for 61 hours and ending Thursday that gave fans a ticket to each of the Wildcats’ five remaining home games for a dollar apiece. Groups of 100 fans could pick any game for $61 total. The same amount would get you a season ticket for all of next season, along the rest of this season. And for $61, a group of four can attend Saturday’s game with TCU with free food and parking.
Oh, and lest anyone think they won’t see Lee if they buy those tickets for next season?
“I’m staying another year,” she said this week, when asked about the possibility of declaring early for the WNBA Draft. “I really love what I’m doing for school, and I want to finish that education. And I love the program. So that’s the plan.”
Lee should be finished with her graduate degree in couples and family therapy sometime next year.
“Growing up, my mom made a big emphasis on, ‘Sports aren’t going to last forever. You need to have something else, because it can be taken from you at any moment,’” she explained. “The master’s program I’m in, I just love it. It’s definitely something I want to do when sports are done, whenever that is.”