The Kansas State women’s basketball team is going back to Connecticut for the NCAA tournament.
K-State was selected as a No. 8 seed and will play No. 9-seed Princeton on Saturday at 10:20 a.m. in Bridgeport, Conn., with the winner likely meeting No. 1 seed Connecticut in the second round on Monday.
It’ll be the third trip to the state of Connecticut for the NCAA tournament in the last past five seasons, including last year’s first-round exit in Storrs and a second-round appearance in Bridgeport during the 2007-08 season.
“We are just happy to be dancing right now,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said Monday night during a team gathering at Bramlage Coliseum. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to extend the season for our seniors and for this team. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would be competing in the NCAA tournament, I probably would have laughed at you.”
The Wildcats (19-13) went into the season looking for a third scorer and found it in Arizona transfer Tasha Dickey, who will be playing in her first-career NCAA tournament as a senior.
“I think the addition of Tasha Dickey was huge,” said Patterson, who is making her ninth NCAA tournament appearance as K-State’s coach. “That was an unexpected X-factor. Even four or five weeks into the season with Tasha, I would not have said that. They had to mature. They had to toughen up, and come together.”
K-State did just that, as the Wildcats overcame a three-game losing streak to end the regular season by knocking off Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals last Thursday in Kansas City before eventually losing to Baylor in the semis.
“I really like the character of this team,” Patterson said. “When they did fall flat, they really responded to the challenge that I put on the plate. They really accepted they are capable of being something really special. When they were not, we sent the message that it was not good enough, they responded to it.
“It wasn’t always immediate. We saw that three-game stretch where we really struggled to get back in step. But I liked their answer in the Big 12 tournament. We got back to our character, to our toughness, to our accountability, and I really liked how we competed there.”
This is the Wildcats’ second straight NCAA bid and third in the last four years. Only once in that span did K-State not advance past the first round — last season when the Wildcats lost to Purdue in Storrs.
“During my freshman year, we didn’t get into any tournament and it was kind of defeating,” K-State junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “I really didn’t understand how defeating it was until the next year when we did make it. It was just the most amazing feeling to know that you are playing with the best of the best and the top 64 teams in the country.
“You’re fighting game-by-game to get to the next step. It’s just exciting because anything can happen at this point.”
The Wildcats, who are one of seven Big 12 teams to advance to the Big Dance, could be playing for a chance to meet the UConn Huskies (29-4) in the second round, in their home state, nonetheless.
“That would be a great opportunity for us,” senior forward Jalana Childs said. “They’re a great team with a great coach. I like thinking about it because when you play a team or a player that is really good, I think it makes your level of play rise and I really want to see that with my team. I think we can do it. But we have to take care of Princeton on Saturday before we think about playing UConn.”
The same scenario was set a year ago for the Wildcats. Had they defeated Purdue, K-State would have played the Huskies on their home court. Chambers said she felt that the Wildcats perhaps looked past Purdue some to the marquee matchup with UConn, one of the most storied women’s programs of all time.
“We looked past Purdue a little bit, not because we felt like they were a bad team, by any means, but we were just looking forward to playing UConn,” she said. “I think we are pretty much in the same situation this year, but we’re just playing a different team in the first round.
“We have to understand that we’re not going to get the opportunity to play UConn, if we don’t come out to play in the first game, like we didn’t last year. We’re just looking forward to being in the tournament and getting that first win that we felt like we kind of gave away last year.”
Princeton (24-4) won the Ivy League and registered the program’s first-ever ranking in the Associated Press poll this week at No. 24.
“I really am looking forward to the challenge of lining up against Princeton,” said Patterson, who defeated the Tigers 63-52 in 2000 in the only meeting between the two schools. “I can say that I know that it’s a quality program with a great coach and a tremendous recruiting program. They’ve really elevated the level of play there and the talent that they’re bringing in.”
This is the third straight appearance for the Tigers, who are riding a 17-game winning streak — including a 14-0 mark in the Ivy League with the conference’s player of the year in Niveen Rasheed. The junior averaged 16.8 points and a league-best 8.8 rebounds per game this season.
“I really haven’t seen them play all year,” Patterson said. “I know that we recruited some similar players this last recruiting year. So, it would say to me that they like versatile, fast players, and spreading the floor. I wouldn’t think that they are a strong power basketball team based on what they have recruited. I think that they like to pass and screen like we do.”