Let the madness begin

Game preview for the Pilots in the opening round of March Madness

By Emma Swett | March 21, 2024 3:23pm
The UP women's basketball team leaves Chiles for their first round NCAA tournament game against Kansas State this Friday at 1:30pm.
Media Credit: Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

College basketball in March is all about madness, and the Pilots are going dancing. 

All eyes are on Manhattan, Kansas where the University of Portland women’s basketball team prepares to take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This highly anticipated matchup is scheduled to tip off at 1:30 p.m. PST on Friday, March 22.

This marks the first-ever face off between the two teams. The 13th seeded Pilots enter Friday’s game with an overall record of 21-12 this season, compared to 4th seeded Kansas State’s record of 25-7. 

On March 12, the UP’s women’s basketball team secured a victory against Gonzaga University (67-66), claiming the title of West Coast Conference champions for the second year in a row.       

After a first-round exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament, losing to the University of Oklahoma 85-63, the Pilots feel better equipped in their approach this year to secure a victory against Kansas State. 

“We have a little better feel of what the tournament is going to be like [this year],” head Coach Michael Meek said. “How physical the game is going to be and how competitive.” 

Women's basketball head coach Michael Meek waves before boarding the bus.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

On the flip side, Kansas State fell short on March 11 in the Big-12 conference tournament, losing to the University of Texas in the conference semifinals. However, their impressive record speaks volumes to the talent on their team, and Meek doesn’t believe this recent loss is any reason to underestimate Kansas State.

“We’re playing a really great team,” Meek said. “Kansas State is a team that, before they had some injuries, were ranked number two in the nation.” 

Specifically, Meek and the Pilots will be focused on containing Kansas State’s powerhouse player, Ayoka Lee. Standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, the Wildcats’ senior center boasts an impressive record. As a three time All-American who also holds the NCAA Division 1 scoring record for points in a single game with 61, Lee will definitely be one to watch during Friday’s faceoff. 

“They [Kansas State] have one of the top scoring and rebounding post players in the nation,” Meek said. “That’s going to be a good matchup for Lucy [Cochrane] down low.” 

Lucy Cochrane, UP women’s basketball program’s current all time leader in blocks, will be matched up against Lee on Friday. Also standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Cochrane will be using her defensive strengths in efforts to minimize Lee’s scoring impact on the Pilots. 

On the offensive end, Kennedy Dickie, a graduate transfer from the University of San Francisco, is expected to have a significant impact on the Pilots’ scoring ability in this year’s NCAA Tournament. After being named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2024 West Coast Conference tournament, where she averaged 18.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, Dickie is ready to lead her team to victory on the national stage.

First-year Dyani Ananiev, from St. Andrews, Australia, is another Pilot anticipated to make a considerable impact on how the matchup unfolds. Upon joining the team in 2023, Ananiev quickly made her mark on the court. She accumulated an impressive seven WCC freshman of the week honors this season, securing her spot on the WCC All-Freshman Team.   

A crowd of people gathered to send off the women's basketball team.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Since securing the title of WCC champs, the city of Portland has rallied around their home team. There are now numerous ways for fans to show support for Friday's game. For those on campus, the University of Portland’s Pilot House will be streaming the event live. Fans can also venture off campus to Chill N Fill and the Sports Bra PDX, two local vendors who will also be hosting watch parties. 

If you cannot attend any of these events, the game will also be available for streaming via ESPNEWS

If the Pilots defeat the Wildcats on Friday, they will then face off against the winner of the No. 5 University of Colorado/No. 12 Drake University game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This game is scheduled to take place Sunday, March 24.  

Emma Swett is a sports reporter for The Beacon and can be reached at swett25@up.edu.