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College Basketball

Ayoka Lee Made History And Nearly Beat A Team By Herself

Screenshot: ESPNU

The Oklahoma Sooners are not a bad basketball team, not by any means. They ended the calendar year on a nine-game win streak, the fruits of one of the more uptempo, efficient offenses in women’s college basketball. For their strong start to the season, they were rewarded with an AP Top 25 spot after five years on the outside. Tough wins over Kansas and Baylor earlier this month got Oklahoma ranked No. 14 in the country. Sports! How funny they are: In their next game, the entire Sooners team quite nearly got outscored by one player.

The one player is Ayoka Lee, Kansas State’s redshirt junior center. On Sunday, in a 94-65 win for the (now No. 25) Kansas State Wildcats, Lee set the D-I women’s basketball single-game scoring record with 61 points, wresting the title from her fellow Minnesotan Rachel Banham, who scored 60 in a 2016 game against Northwestern when she played for Minnesota. The women’s basketball stats site Her Hoop Stats posted a fun little graphic that shows just how easily Lee kept pace with Oklahoma in this game; she led them at the half, traded leads with them through the third and fourth quarters, and had tied them when she finally checked out with just under three minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The 61 points came on 23-for-30 shooting, efficient even for a big, and 15-of-17 from the free-throw line. (Lee didn’t attempt any threes.) Maybe lost in the big individual accomplishment is that the team played really well around Lee, too. Frankly, they should take all the credit for this. You can only score 61 points if you are fed good and helpful entry passes by your loving teammates.

Lee’s star has been on the rise this season after a rough beginning to her college career. An injury kept her from playing what should have been her freshman year, and a COVID-19 outbreak hit the team hard last year, tanking their chances of an invite to the tournament. But she’s been an elite center in a college season with a lot of very good ones, and she set high expectations early by breaking Kansas State’s single-game school scoring record in their first game of this season, putting up 43 points against Central Arkansas. The impressive stat lines are becoming more rule than exception: In January alone, she’s had the Oklahoma game, scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Baylor, and had 38 points and 11 rebounds against Iowa State the next week. Those are good, ranked teams! She’s just that hard to defend, a downright clinical post player who isn’t prone to errors. Despite her high usage in the game against Oklahoma, she did not record a single turnover.

Lee was always going to pose a challenge to an Oklahoma team that’s on the small side, and it was a dominant performance you could see brewing early, when Lee had already scored 12 points in the first five minutes of the game. “You never want to be on this side of an NCAA record, but I thought she was phenomenal,” Oklahoma head coach Jennie Baranczyk said afterward. “Clearly, we didn’t have an answer. What’s another word for incredible? Outstanding, amazing, spectacular, All-American? Yes, all of those things. She was great.”

Lee seemed pretty calm about it herself. But just look how damn happy her teammates are for her.