BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Perhaps Brittany Chambers said it best.
“They didn’t have an answer for Brandy,” she said.
Branshea Brown did what she wanted, when she wanted, and in turn, led eighth-seeded Kansas State past 9-seed Princeton 67-64 on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Championship with a career-high 22 points at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
Brown, whose previous career high was 14 points scored against St. John’s last season, made 10-of-17 shots from the field and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Wildcats advance to the second round against No. 1-seed Connecticut on Monday night.
“They scouted Jalana and I well — were double-teaming Jalana — and they didn’t have an answer for Brandy,” said Chambers, who finished with six points. “They never saw it coming. They couldn’t guard her.”
How could Princeton see it coming? After all, Brown entered the game averaging just 5.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest this season. Before Saturday, the 6-foot-2 senior had only scored in double figures five times this season, including a previous season-high 13 points against at South Dakota State back in December.
“I wouldn’t have known going into this game that Brandy would have been the high scorer,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “We’ve all talked about the fact that there were five games or so that we won because of what she did on the offensive end. In some cases it was when she changed the game with big shots she was willing to make, and some like today, it was when she popped for double figures.
“Today, she took over the game. She was the one consistent element we had on a day when our perimeters struggled.”
Brown credited her big day to her teammates and a desire to not see her career end in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
“I was just wanting to win,” said Brown, who had 12 points at halftime. “My teammates put me a good position to get the ball and I took advantage of it today. I was just into the moment. I’m a senior and this could have been my last game. I didn’t want this to be my last game.”
There was nothing ho-hum about Brown’s 22 points either. The South Carolina native did it in a variety of ways, scoring on drives to the basket, from the free throw line, with turnarounds under the rim, face-up jump shots and even hook shots over her left shoulder.
“She works hard everyday in practice and she peaked at the right time and at the right moment,” K-State senior guard Tasha Dickey said. “I was screaming from the bench and in the game — I was just so amazed. She was getting the layups, pushing them down, shooting jumpers, and her defense was intense. It was an awesome overall game.”
When asked about this seemingly new and potent mid-range jump shot, Brown said, ‘whatever works.”
“They were just coming to me today, so I had to knock them down,” she said. “It all came together today, I guess.”
Brown’s contributions came in key moments of the game when Childs and Chambers were being double- or triple-teamed, often unable to get shots off from inside or outside.
The soft-spoken Brown tied the game three times in the first half with baskets, jumpstarted a 7-0 K-State run in the first half and then scored on three straight possessions late in the second half to help the Wildcats maintain their lead.
“Brandy is one of those players that when nothing is going right, somehow she finds a way to make things right,” Chambers said. “That seems to happen a lot when we don’t have the answers to things — she’s that player who steps up and makes the plays. This was the best game of her career and it came at perfect time for us.”
K-State’s three starting guards — Chambers, Dickey and Mariah White — combined to shoot 7-of-16 from the field for just 23 total points, making Brown’s efforts all the more important.
“This was a huge game for her because we started out strong and then we all started to fade — except her,” said Dickey, who finished with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. “She’s been in this tournament a couple times and she knows the only way you stay in it is to move forward and to win.
“This is her senior year and she was determined to get a win today. She went beast-mode on this game.”