MANHATTAN — Kansas State is closing in on a WNIT championship.
The Wildcats kept rolling behind another big game from star guard Brittany Chambers on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum, thumping Illinois 66-48 in front of 1,717 fans to advance to the tournament’s semifinals. They will next host Utah at 7 p.m. on Wednesday with a trip to the final up for grabs.
K-State (19-17) won its fourth straight game without trouble, clinching a winning season in the process.
The Wildcats jumped out to 22-8 lead midway through the first half and forced Illinois (19-14) to play catch-up the rest of the way. That was a difficult task considering the Illini had to win at Toledo on Thursday and travel to Manhattan on Friday. They pulled within nine early in the second half, but the Wildcats regained control by scoring six quick points and holding Illinois to a season-low points total.
“It was a real exciting win for our team and for our program against a very dangerous and high-quality Illinois basketball team,” Patterson said. “They brought a lot of different components to the floor. Every possession you had to be very intelligent. They are a challenging team.… It felt good to put that total game together at a time and against an opponent where anything less would not have gotten you to this place.”
K-State has reached the semifinals of the WNIT for the third time in four appearances. It won the tournament in 2006 and is two victories away from matching that accomplishment.
It has a friendly crowd — K-State is 13-0 at home in WNIT games — and a balanced attack to thank for that.
Chambers, as usual, led the way for K-State. The senior scored 21 points on 15 shots and hit five three-pointers to keep Illinois at arm’s length. But, for once, she received lots of help.
Chantay Caron totaled a career-high 19 points and six rebounds while Haley Texada had 16 points and five rebounds. K-State was also strong on defense, with five players grabbing multiple steals.
“Our players answered the call,” Patterson said. “That was maturity from our team and great composure.”
The Wildcats had trouble pulling away in their past two victories, but that balanced attack made life far easier on Saturday.
“Illinois has a really good zone and they are very lengthy. Sometimes that can be intimidating,” Chambers said. “For a while that his us. That 9-0 stretch was bothering us, but I think we held our composure and our players kept moving.… That takes maturity, which is really great seeing Haley handle that zone. And Chantay was amazing.”
Added Caron on her big game: “It was awesome.”
Something else that would be awesome: Winning 20 games and playing for a championship a few weeks after ending the Big 12 Tournament with a losing record.
Both will be on the line in K-State’s next game.
“It’s exciting,” Chambers said. “It is starting to hit us a little as we get closer and closer. In a tournament when you win one or two games you are still really far away from the end goal. Now we are No. 4 and it is starting to shine a little brighter. We just have to keep our heads on straight.”
Illinois — Penn 8-16 4-4 20, Crawford 3-8 0-0 7, Smith 1-3 0-0 2, GodBold 5-11 1-1 11, Moore 3-8 0-0 8, Piper 0-0 0-0 0, Tuck 0-1 0-0 0, Oden 0-2 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 5-5 48.
Kansas State — Caron 7-13 5-6 19, Texada 7-15 1-2 16, Chambers 8-15 0-0 21, Craig 3-7 0-0 8, White 0-3 2-2 2, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Spresser 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 8-10 66.
Halftime — Kansas State 34, Illinois 24. 3’s — Illinois 3-13 (Crawford 1-3, Moore 2-6), Kansas State 8-28 (Texada 1-7, Chambers 5-11, Craig 2-6). Rebounds — Illinois 26 (Penn 9), Kansas State 31 (White 7). Assists — Illinois 13 (Smith 5), Kansas State 18 (White 6).