March 19, 2009

After a surprising Big 12 regular-season title in 2007-08, Kansas State looked ready to repeat after its best start in school history, but a late fade cost the Wildcats that chance.

Looking to regroup after a heart-breaking loss in the Big 12 tournament, 21st-ranked Kansas State will try for a strong showing in its second straight NCAA appearance on Saturday against a 12th-seeded and upset-minded Drexel squad that enters Albuquerque with considerable momentum.

Kansas State (25-7), which won the 2006 WNIT title and reached the WNIT Final Four the following year defending its title, followed up its Big 12 title season in 2008 with a 14-0 start and was 18-1 - 5-1 in the rugged Big 12 - after defeating Nebraska on Jan. 27. But the Wildcats dropped five of eight games before regrouping with three straight victories - including an upset of No. 15 Texas - but they couldn't sustain that momentum in the Big 12 quarterfinals as Ashley Sweat just missed a potential tying shot at the buzzer in a 65-63 defeat to 10th-ranked Texas A&M.

"You have to take the good from whatever situation you're faced with," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said following the loss to the Aggies. "(Being eliminated in the quarterfinals) will certainly give us an opportunity for rest."

Sweat, a junior forward, is the team's leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, and senior forward Marlies Gipson averages 13.2 points. Versatile senior guard Shalee Lehning, however, is undoubtedly the Wildcats' top player in producing 10.9 points, 7.6 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game.

The Wooden Award finalist is the only player in Big 12 history with 1,000 points, 900 rebounds and 700 assists. Her three triple-doubles this season were a conference record, and the school retired her jersey on March 1.

Lehning, Sweat and Gipson earned all-Big 12 honors and each have scored more than 1,000 career points. They have Kansas State in its 11th NCAA tournament and searching for its sixth straight first-round victory.

As a No. 5 seed last season, the Wildcats defeated Chattanooga 69-59 before falling to fourth-seeded Louisville 80-63. They have reached the Sweet 16 once in the last 26 seasons, losing to Old Dominion in 2002.

The Dragons (24-8) reached its first-ever NCAA tournament by ending the Monarchs' reign in the Colonial Athletic Association. Drexel's 62-41 victory over Old Dominion in the conference semifinals snapped a 52-game tournament win streak going back to 1992, and the Dragons followed with a 64-58 title win over James Madison.

Behind junior forward Gabriela Marginean, Drexel finished with a school record for victories and was the CAA regular-season champion at 16-2. Marginean, the conference's player of the year, was fourth nationally with 23.6 points per game and averaged a team-leading 7.3 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Jasmina Rosseel is the only other player scoring in double figures at 10.8 points per game.

After an 8-8 start, the Dragons have matched the school's longest win streak at 16 games, set in 1989-90.

This is the first meeting between the schools. The winner will face either fourth-seeded Vanderbilt or No. 13 seed Western Carolina on Monday.