MANHATTAN, Kan. — With time to kill the night before their next postseason game, Adrienne GodBold and about six of her Illinois women’s basketball teammates were hanging out together at the team hotel.
There was plenty of laughter and some confident talk about going all the way in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Then, as GodBold surveyed the scene, a couple of thoughts struck the Illini senior guard that she could not contain.
“I looked across the room and it hit me,” GodBold recalled one day later. “ ‘Guys, this could possibly be our last night together. I just love you guys.’
“We laughed about it. But it got a little bit emotional, too.”
On Saturday afternoon, GodBold’s fear was realized. Attempting to become the first team in program history to reach the semifinals of a national postseason tournament, Illinois instead saw its season stopped cold in a 66-48 loss to Kansas State.
The Illini (19-14) were held to a season low in points while absorbing their fourth defeat of 18 or more points.
“Give Kansas State a lot of credit,” first-year Illinois coach Matt Bollant said. “They made the shots and made the plays they had to.”
Ultimately, the Illini fell victim to ball-security breakdowns. Illinois turned the ball over 18 times — 11 in the first half — and the opportunistic Wildcats cashed in with 22 points off Illini miscues. K-State also racked up 14 steals, the second most by an Illini opponent this season.
“I thought our turnovers hurt us in the first half,” said Bollant, whose team trailed 34-24 at the break. “They did a good job of capitalizing off the turnovers.”
Illinois never drew closer than nine points in the second half as the Wildcats shot 54.2 percent (13 of 24) in the final 20 minutes.
“In the second half, I think they had six shots they made with one or two seconds on the shot clock,” Bollant said. “We would play really good defense for 25 or 28 seconds and then we couldn’t quite get a stop.”
The Illini’s last lead was 8-7 on a field goal by senior center Karisma Penn (20 points, nine rebounds). K-State then went on a 15-0 run fueled by Haley Texada’s nine points. When Brianna Craig hit a three-pointer to cap the surge, Illinois was in a 22-8 hole from which it never recovered.
GodBold said she thought the Illini were victims of overconfidence against an opponent that entered with an 18-17 record and had tied for eighth place in the 10-team Big 12.
“We sort of underestimated them, and we didn’t mentally prepare better like we should have coming into the game,” said GodBold (11 points, seven rebounds). “Going into the game, we took them too lightly, and they came back and kicked us in the butt.”
Facing a team from a conference Bollant repeatedly has called the best in the nation, perhaps the Illini should have known better. With the loss, Illinois fell to 0-3 this season against Big 12 teams, with each defeat by either 18 or 19 points.
Only Big Ten champion Penn State handed Illinois a more lopsided loss this season.
Bollant pointed to the quick turnaround for his team. After winning at Toledo in the third round on Thursday, the Illini were back on the court less than 48 hours later.
“I think the Toledo game took a lot out of us,” he said. “We didn’t seem to have the same legs or the same energy that we had two nights ago.”
The location probably didn’t help, either. K-State improved to 13-0 all time in WNIT games played in Manhattan.
Senior guard Brittany Chambers scored a game-high 21 points and shot 5 of 11 from three-point range to lead the Wildcat attack. The three-time All-Big 12 first-teamer extended her streak of games with at least 20 points to nine.
K-State received an unexpected boost from Chantay Caron. The junior forward entered with a 6.2-point scoring average but racked up a career-high 19.
Afterward, Bollant took a big-picture view of the season, during which there were signs virtually across the board of progress, including a first-division finish in the Big Ten and a postseason run that matched the deepest in program history.
“Good to see it heading in the right direction,” Bollant said. “We set some records for most steals in the Big Ten and most turnovers forced. It takes a year to learn the defensive system, so for us to have those numbers in our first year says something about these kids. They gave us great effort and great hearts.”
While Bollant and most of his team can look to next season, seniors GodBold and Penn were hit with the realization they’ve played their final game as an Illini.
“It hurts to end this way,” GodBold said. “We were planning things out and we just knew we were going to win the whole thing, and we let it slip away.
“I’m going to miss these girls so much. They’re my family.”