It has been more than a decade in the making, but the NCAA Tournament committee seems to have finally landed its dream matchup — Kansas State vs. Connecticut.
After placing the two women’s basketball programs together in four previous brackets since 2002, the schools actually get to play each other for the first time, in the second round of the Kingston, R.I., Regional at 6 p.m. Monday.
“Part of it’s me thinking they just really want to see us play,” K-State senior Jalana Childs said with a big smile. “The bracketologists really think it’s a great matchup, so finally we are meeting tomorrow night, (on) ESPN2.
“It’s an opportunity and I’m excited.”
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When it comes to women’s programs, the top-seeded Huskies (30-4) are considered basketball royalty with seven national champions since 1995. However, the 8-seed Wildcats (20-13) have already taken the floor against the nation’s top team, Baylor, three times this season — they lost all three — and the Big 12 is the game’s top conference according to power ratings.
K-State last played in the second round in 2009, losing to Vanderbilt, and has not been to the Sweet 16 since 2002.
“We have played Baylor a couple times and (Texas) A&M,” K-State junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “We have been on the floor with the best in the past and I think for sure that’s going to help us coming into the game, especially with not being intimidated by what the front of the jersey says.”
The Wildcats earned a chance to play UConn with a 67-64 opening-round win over Princeton. Both teams come in among the winningest women’s programs, with UConn having 827 victories and K-State with 823.
“Each year, they play their style of play, it’s been consistent,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The program is built around their defense. They play great defense. They don’t try and do a lot of things. They are very patient. They are always disciplined every year, and they try and force you to play their style by controlling the tempo, and I’m sure tomorrow it will be the same thing.”
Against Princeton, K-State’s role players had a major hand in the victory, starting with a career-high 22 points from senior Branshea Brown and a nine-point, five-assist game from Mariah White.
Wichita freshman Ashia Woods did a little of everything — four points, three rebounds, three blocks and four assists, and sophomore Chantay Caron came off the bench to hit a three-pointer just before the half to give K-State a 31-27 lead.
“Players like Brandy, Ashia and Mariah and even Chantay, they have had moments where they have come alive for us,” Chambers said. “When they are playing their best, it makes it hard for other teams to continue to double-team Jalana or guard me because they can’t stop the other three.
“It’s helpful to have those other players step up in big situations.”
Even though UConn might not be as dominant as in previous seasons without a star player like Maya Moore or Tina Charles, K-State coach Deb Patterson realizes they will need a team effort, especially playing in a pro-Husky environment.
“You are at a point in the season where everyone in this game is going to have to be ready to make a positive impact,” Patterson said. “When we go to our bench, the bench is going to have to answer and contribute. You can’t just spell somebody minutes because you can get steamrolled by a basketball team like UConn pretty quick.”
The Wildcats already know what that feels like after being beaten soundly by Baylor three times, including 86-65 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.
Childs said staying mentally strong will be key for the Wildcats.
“Our downfall has been getting down on each other or getting down in a game, and that’s what we’ve learned over the course of the season and in the postseason to change that,” she said. “We have to block out all distractions and all adversity, and just continue to press on.”