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Portland hopes purple-clad crowd will feel like home against Kansas State in women's NCAA Tournament


MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Perhaps if the Portland Pilots squint hard enough, the crowd they are going to play in front of Friday might appear to be backing them.

Thirteenth-seeded Portland takes on Kansas State at the home of the No. 4 seed Wildcats in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament, with a match between No. 5 seed Colorado and No. 12 seed Drake following Friday night.

The first game will be a purple parade — one the Pilots are used to — they hope.

“I think seeing everyone in purple is going to be a big plus,” Portland leading-scorer Emme Shearer said of the schools' matching primary colors.

Kansas State doesn't think so. With a sellout expected, the Wildcats are looking forward to the frenzied fans they've enjoyed all season.

“I’ve been saying all year that we have one of the best home-court advantages in the country,” Kansas State guard Gabby Gregory said. “It’s just going to be a really awesome experience, and I’m very, very, very excited.”

The Wildcats (25-7) are confident they will be successful if they stick with what they’ve done this year, in spite of the fact that Portland has a big post player in Lucy Cochrane, like their own Ayoka Lee, and tall guards.

“They have got good size at the guard spot,” K-State coach Jeff Mittie said. “They have got a 6-foot, 6-inch player that really defends the rim well for them.”

Despite the similarities in their rosters, Pilots coach Michael Meek said the teams' styles of play will separate them.

“We definitely play kind of a different style of play,” he said. “I think it’s not easy to replicate somebody like Lee with how strong she is and how powerful she is.”

Portland (21-12) won the West Coast Conference Tournament to make it into March Madness, beating top-seeded Gonzaga 67-66 in the conference championship game. Meek believes as good as his team played to make it this far, there's more in the tank.

"We came out of the game saying we were capable of being way more competitive than we were in that game,” he said.

Kansas State lost to eventual NCAA tourney No. 1 seed Texas 71-64 in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal round. The Wildcats have been burning to get back on the court.

“They’re ready to play,” Mittie said. “They have had a good week of practice. It’s been what I wanted.”

In the second game Friday at Bramlage Coliseum, Drake (29-5) rides in on a high after winning the Missouri Valley Conference title game on a buzzer beater. Colorado (22-9) enters having lost six of its last eight games. The Buffaloes exited the Pac-12 Tournament in a double-overtime loss to Oregon State in the quarterfinals.

“Teams are in the tournament for a reason, so you respect everybody that you go up against,” Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “Drake is a really good team. I think at the end of the day really — and I know we said it a lot — but it’s about us.”

Colorado coach JR Payne said she’s confident that outside noise won’t affect her team.

“A core identity of our program is trying to be great every day, no matter what we’re doing,” she said. “Our mindset is just to prioritize being excellent each and every day.”

The Bulldogs enter the tournament on a 14-game winning streak. They’re confident they can keep it going.

“We have tons of momentum,” guard Katie Dinnebier said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”

When asked if they could keep it going against teams they haven’t faced before, teammate Grace Berg said, “it plays to our advantage."

“We haven’t played them yet, but they haven’t played us either,” she said. "We’re hard to scout. We have five people on the court capable of scoring all the time.”

That confidence impressed coach Allison Pohlman.

“The phenomenal thing they’ve done is stay in the moment,” she said. “It’s just trying to stay one second, one minute at a time.”


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness