Kansas State center Ayoka Lee stood at the free throw line with just under four minutes left on the clock against Oklahoma. Head coach Jeff Mittie stole a glance at the scoreboard.
"When I looked up, it said 58, and it just looked funny. It looked weird," said Mittie. "I've never seen that on a scoreboard before next to a player's name."
Lee sank both shots, going 15 of 17 on free throws during the Jan. 23 game, bringing her to 59 points. She didn't know it then, as her focus was still on the game, but the 6-foot-6 junior was about to make history. Just two points stood between her and the NCAA Division I women's basketball record for most points scored in a game.
She had already smashed through her personal record of 43 points and had started the fourth quarter with 49, one point behind Brittney Griner's almost decade-standing Big 12 single-game record of 50 points.
"I remember thinking, 'At no point can we let up,'" Lee said. "Which, I guess, might be a little excessive."
With just under 3 minutes left in the game, Lee established a position in the post, took a pass from Jaelyn Glenn, and went up for a layup. It was a run-of-the-mill play, one she's executed countless times in her college career.
Lee was already running back in transition as the ball swished through the net. She noticed the crowd was louder than it should've been for such a routine shot.
"That was the moment when I was like, 'Oh, okay. I did something really big,'" said Lee.
On Saturday, K-State and OU meet again. This time, at Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners' home. Here we relive that history-changing afternoon through the eyes of those who were on the court and in the stadium, setting the stage for the rematch. The game airs at 5:00 PM ET.
The University of Oklahoma women's basketball players weren't made available to interview for this oral history.
Ayoka Lee, who goes by Yokie, gave a teammate a ride to K-State's Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats had breakfast at the arena with the coaching staff ahead of the early afternoon game against Oklahoma. After breakfast, Lee took a nap in a recliner in the locker room, part of her home game routine. But in the locker room, right before the game, head coach Jeff Mittie noticed something different about Lee. Something felt special.
Rebekah Dallinger, K-State guard: I don't have a car, [Ayoka] picks me up a lot of the time. So we went in together that morning, and she just seemed super locked in. She was ready, like she is every game. But no one realized that this was going to happen that day.
Ebony Gilliam, K-State assistant coach: It was an early game. So we had a shoot-around at 8:20 a.m. We had a shorter shoot-around than normal because coach didn't want to get the girls up too early. And then we have a pre-game meal at 9:00 a.m., just right above Bramlage. And that's breakfast, which is delicious.
Ayoka Lee, K-State center: I always take a nap before the games, and I was really looking forward to that nap because of how early the start was. Usually it's mediocre, but I woke up and I was like, "Wow, that was a great nap, I'm ready to go."
Mittie: I remember saying to the coaches, "I'll say one thing, Lee is locked in. She's really focused." Now, normally she's pretty focused, but she had a good look to her in the locker room.
Taylor Lauterbach, K-State center: This is a funny story, because before the game, we talk and everything and I'm hyping Ayoka up. Last year when we played OU, she scored a crazy big number. And I was joking with her and I was like, "Okay. You're going to drop 40 again tonight. (Lee scored 37 and 33 points against OU last season.) Let's go, let's go." And typical Ayoka she's like, "Yeah, yeah. We'll see."
Brenda VanLengen, ESPN women's basketball analyst: Bramlage was buzzing. They hadn't opened the gates officially for the fans yet, but when they do, Bramlage is set down in this bowl and everybody comes in at the top level. Then you just watch people pour down the stairs, down to their seats and then, fill in all the stairs. There was excitement for a ranked team and the anticipation of a good Big 12 game on a Sunday afternoon.
Lee: Every year I've played at K-State, the OU [games] have always been the most difficult matchup. And it was no different this year because they like to push it. So we expected it to be a pretty fast-paced game.
Jeff Mittie, K-State head coach: Well, we were optimistic. I think every coach is optimistic going in. Any team that loses confidence is a vulnerable basketball team.
Jennie Baranczyk, Oklahoma head coach: Whenever you prepare for Kansas State, all you focus on are the different adjustments you want to make for a player like Ayoka. You've got to adjust your entire plan around her ... From a prep standpoint, I think everybody knew that it wasn't going to be easy.
VanLengen: I thought it would be a good game, because Oklahoma and Kansas State had played the year before and it had actually come down to a last play. I knew that Oklahoma had a hard time defending a big, inside player like Ayoka Lee. And I knew that she had scored 37 points and set a school record the year before. I thought that Ayoka Lee might have another good day against Oklahoma, but I certainly didn't anticipate she was going to set an NCAA record.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Baranczyk: It was 6 to nothing pretty quickly and [K-State's lead] grew significantly after that. We were a little bit uncharacteristic on the offensive end, which, again, you have to credit them for their defense as well.
Kelsey Bigelow, K-State athletics sideline reporter: I was running camera for that game, getting crowd shots and whatnot. And I was talking over the headset to our board show producers and directors. And I mean, it started off just normally, like, "Oh, Ayoka Lee is doing her thing." Then all of a sudden it was 14 points in the first quarter. I think it was towards the end of the first quarter, beginning of the second quarter, but our producer goes, "You better get a graphic ready because Ayoka Lee is about to break a bunch of records today." And it was kind of like a joke, but kind of being serious.
Mittie: There was a shot in the first half where she had a turnaround jumper, and you always hear athletes talk about being in the zone. And it's hard to explain, but you're just so focused, and the basket looks like it's three times the size. And she had a turnaround jumper in the second quarter that I thought, oh wow, she's really got it tonight.
Baranczyk: The more [K-State] scored, the more that we kind of got back in our heels, and then they just kept going, and we didn't. When something did happen to kind of go our way, we needed to rebound and then be able to convert, and we just didn't. Sometimes that happens.
Lee: I remember catching a pass that I was really just off balance, was either in the process of moving or just gotten bumped, and I just turned around and shot it and did not expect to make it. And I did. And I was like, "Okay, cool."
Brian Ostermann, K-State associate head coach: Now you can't ever predict 61, but that first quarter, when she's on fire like that, and the way they were defending her after the first quarter, you knew she was going to have a big game, and it was a matter of how big.
VanLengen: Lee scored 43 points in the first game of the year against Central Arkansas. I knew that was her personal high. She had scored 38 points against Iowa State earlier in the year, so she had broken the K-State record for points in a Big 12 game.
So, in the first couple of minutes at the first media time out, I'm like, "Okay, we need to start looking ahead at what records she could potentially break, because this looks like she's going to be scoring a lot of points."
NO LOOKING BACK
Mittie: Well, when we went into half and we were going over some things, and the stat sheet said she had 32 at half. At that point, you're like, "Wow, she's really putting up some big numbers." Now, what we talked about at halftime -- that was probably my first realization that "Wow, she's probably going to break her own record," because her own record was 43. But I didn't give any thought to anything else other than they're probably going to double and triple team her a little more in the second half.
Gilliam: Honestly, what I thought at halftime was, they're going to limit [Lee's] touches in the second half. They'll probably give her 10 or 12 points. We go into the third quarter and she starts scoring well again, and I honestly was really thinking this. I was like, "We're going to witness something great today."
Baranczyk: You're constantly thinking that you need to make adjustments. And I think in order to make some adjustments though, no matter what you try to do, there's still basic fundamental things that we've got to be able to do. We had a lot of people in foul trouble, so there's not as much that you can do sometimes that maybe it appears that you can do. ... So you can't combat size with size that you don't have. You've got to try to do different things.
Lee: Our defense was doing really well, but I also remember just being like, "At no point can we let up," which is, I guess, might be a little excessive. I don't know. But I just remember being like, "Okay, every play matters."
Kolloh Nimley, Lee's mother: I didn't even know the Big 12 or the NCAA record or anything like that. All I was hoping was that she would break her own record of 43 and get 45 points.
Nathan Enserro, Kansas State Collegian assistant sports editor: I use a term sometimes, where I call it "legitimately loud," and that's anytime that the crowd noise interferes with my ability to think straight, and that happened.
Ross Lovelace, OU Daily reporter: I wasn't in attendance, but I watched the whole game. With ever basket, the stadium, the murmur kept getting a little bit louder. And finally, when she would cross 40, the people would go nuts. Then when she gets to 50, you think they can't go any crazier than they did at 40, and they go crazier.
Dallinger: I was sitting next to Staci [Gregorio, Director of Student-Athlete Development/Video Coordinator] on the bench, and she got a notification on her Apple watch, and it said, "Watch this now, can Ayoka [Lee] beat the DI NCAA scoring record?"
Staci showed me that, and I was like, "Wait, are you kidding me?" And at that point she had like four points left. And now it was still the fourth quarter with like seven minutes to go. So we were like, that's really crazy.
Nimley: [Coach Ostermann's] wife turned to me and said, "She's about to break the Big 12 record." I cried a little when she got 51 points, and I'm like, "Okay, well she passed 45. I don't know where she's going."
Lauterbach: It was so surreal. I thought it was crazy. I was like, "Oh my gosh! What is happening?" I was still on cloud nine that she broke a Big 12 record. But seeing that on the Apple Watch screen, I was like, "Oh my gosh! This is my team!"
Gilliam: I have no idea what Coach Mittie was thinking. He kind of never spoke about it the whole time. He was just coaching. He never talked about the record the whole time we were at the game.
Lovelace: It was just so sensational and incredible that it was hard not to pull for her to keep going. She was in her zone, and it was cool to see a basketball performance just centered around her. Lee was seriously dominating whether it was hook shots, layups, catching the ball high and finishing high, making free throws. It was cool to see someone really put it all together and have their craft completely perfected for a night.
Mittie: I didn't ever look up, but the crowd started to make some louder noises on certain baskets, so my thought was, "oh, she must have just broken her own record," that kind of thing, because there'd be a louder applause than normal. I did not look up at the scoreboard until she had 58.
VanLengen: At halftime, I got a text from Randy Peterson [Director of Women's Basketball and Soccer Communications at K-State] that said, "Lee has set the school record for points in a half. There was that moment. And then, as we were approaching the Big 12 record, which confirmed my number, I believe it was either 50 or 51. And I know it was set by Brittney Griner against Kansas State. So that was a cool moment for the program and for Ayoka Lee, that her record broke Brittney Griner's record, who was such a dominant center.
Mittie: When I looked up, it said 58, and it just looked funny. It looked weird. I've never seen that on a scoreboard before next to a player's name, and it just looked different. When I'm looking up at 58, I already knew what the Big 12 record was because I knew that Griner had had it before. I knew that she'd already crossed that, so I was like, "Oh, this is a NCAA record."
Bigelow: The team you could tell was definitely getting more antsy. And then especially once we're approaching that 60 point record mark, every time down the court, everyone was clenching their teeth a little bit. Like, "Get her the ball, get her the ball," because obviously time comes into factor then.
Lee: I had no idea. And it's funny because everyone always tells me the story of Randy [Peterson]. He told our video coordinator like, "Hey, she is going to break a national record." I think it's so fun hearing about just that part of it and how they kind of kept it quiet on the bench. But yeah, I had no idea.
Mittie: The memorable one for me was just the last one (shot), because it was my first realization that this is a record here. She's breaking the record. And of course the play came where you could see it happening, and it was almost like it was in slow motion.
You're watching her post up, you're watching the ball reverse, and you're saying, "Give her the ball, give her the ball."
Glenn: I think the last pass that got her to 61 was a pass from me, and the bench just went crazy, and I was like, "Wait, what happened?" ...So for me it was kind of like any old pass that I've thrown to her, but then they announced it, and that's when I finally knew about it. And I was like, "That's awesome."
Lauterbach: Right before the play...I was already on my feet. She scores the basket. I just remember going crazy. I was jumping up and down. The stadium was electric.
Lee: I had no idea...It was just the pass to the wing, left shoulder, turn around hook shot or layup. Yeah. Just a pretty simple move for me...After the shot, the crowd goes. I really didn't expect to get subbed out. And I think that was the moment when I was like, "Oh, okay. I did something really big."
Nimley: I was just really humbled and grateful for the people around her, her coaches, her teammates, and the community really supported her.
Emilee Ebert, K-State guard: The energy in there was, it was ridiculous. It was so loud. And I was the one that went in for her when she came out of the game. So to have that moment with her, to just be able to hug her and tell her how proud I am of her. That was super special for me, for sure.
Mittie: It had gotten to where we were going to win the game, and she takes a lot of wear and tear. At that point I felt like, well, she's got the record. Let's get her out, and let's have the fans really show their appreciation. And you knew the fans wanted to do that, so it seemed like the right time.
VanLengen: I got chills recognizing that [former Tennessee Lady Vols head coach] Holly Warlick and I, calling this game, were there witnessing history. Not only did Ayoka Lee break her own personal best, she broke the K-State record for scoring, she broke the Big 12 record for scoring that day. And then, she broke the NCAA record for scoring in a single game. And it was really cool to be a part of it, she was really unstoppable.
Baranczyk said in a post-game interview: There's not a lot to say after that one. That was a really incredible performance by Ayoka Lee. You obviously never want to be on the wrong side of an NCAA record, but I thought that she [Lee] was absolutely phenomenal, and we just didn't have an answer.
Mittie: For a center to do that, the guards really have to be unselfish. The guards really have to get her the basketball. And to do it without a three pointer, you've got to have a total team commitment to just making the right basketball play.
Lee: Getting to see my mom and celebrate with her, she's crying like, "I'm so proud of you," all this stuff. So I think it was just really sweet getting to share that moment with her.
Ostermann: Lee was at the other end of the court doing her interview and our team was all kind of lingering. And I remember making sure I sent the entire team over to Yokie to celebrate with her and get on TV because that was such a team thing. I said, "You all got to go. You got to go."
Ebert: Well, at first we were like, "Give her a moment." This is big. Let her talk. And then we're kind of just yeah, you know what, she deserves to be celebrated. We kind of just ran at her and kind of bombarded her a little bit.
Lee: I had no idea that they were sneaking up behind me, I was like, "What are you guys doing?" but also just like, "Oh, I love you guys so much."
Brylee Glenn, K-State guard: We wanted to show her how truly loved she is. We just decided to run up on it, give her a huge hug, and that picture, I think it really just captured it all. The big smile on her face, all our faces. It was just like, "show her that she was loved and how big of an accomplishment this is." Because she's truly such a humble person.
VanLengen: I always ask that [athletic directors] give me something a little bit off the beaten path, off the court that people wouldn't know. He says, "Well, Ayoka's really a good baker." I said, "Oh, really? And what's her specialty?" I think she makes chocolate chip banana bread or something. So, at Big 12 media day, I had asked her about that. And she said, "Yeah, I like to do that on special occasions, make that for my teammates and stuff." That's why I asked her at the end of the broadcast.
Mittie: She's always taking the bananas from our nutrition area. And I walk by there, I go, "Hey, there's some bananas that need to be made into banana bread."
VanLengen: I said, "So, this seems like a special occasion." And she goes, "Yeah, we might have to make some of that for the team." I'm thinking they need to make that for you.
Serena Sundell, K-State guard: Once Coach Mittie comes into the locker room, we all wait for him and then if we beat a ranked team or something, we'll throw water on him. I think everyone knew what was about to happen.
Mittie: So immediately when I walked into the locker room, I knew they were going to throw water on me, but before they could, I said, "Let's get Lee with the water."
Lee: Coach Mittie comes in and he's like, "Get Yokie," and I whip my head, eyes huge, like "What?" And then I'm just doused in ice cold water. That was great.
Ebert: They were fresh waters, right out of the fridge. It was so cold, and you could just tell it was freezing, and everyone was just drenching her, and the locker room was a disaster. Like everything was soaking wet.
Baranczyk: Lee was good. We weren't very good. And she had great players around her that were good. I mean, they still have to be able to make the passes. They're not a one-player team. A lot of people got her to the ball. Although she was incredible, she has a supporting cast to really allow her to do that. And I think she's a classy young person, [Lee] constantly credits her teammates.
Dallinger: A few of Ayoka's friends, there were like 15 of us. We went out to eat and just hung out just to congratulate her and stuff. I rode with her to the pizza shop and I was like, Ayoka, do you know what you just did? You're insane. And she was like, "that was so fun."
It was just such a good game. Like she was just all about the team. Her phone was blowing up the whole time, but she was just like immersed in her friends and what they've been up to.
Cymone Goodrich, K-State guard: I was talking to Yokie afterwards because me, her, Emilee and Rachel got to go to the Basketball Hall of Fame [last year] and I was just thinking, we were just there and now you have your jersey going there.
Lee: Afterwards, I got a lot of text messages with the screenshot of notifications and an ESPN notification with my name in it. Just never crossed my mind that that would happen.
It's just like, "Wow." I would still be enough even if this didn't [happen], but what a blessing it is to be able to experience this moment.
Kansas State is currently at the no. 6 spot in the Big 12 women's basketball rankings. Oklahoma has since climbed to 3rd place in the Big 12 standings. As of publish date, Ayoka Lee has an average of 23 points per game in the 2021-2022 season. K-State defeated OU (94-65) on Jan. 23.