Cats knock out Illini, into WNIT semis

By Joshua Kinder

Monday is April and the Kansas State women are still playing basketball.

The Wildcats, who were essentially written off to end the regular season, are alive and well and now into the semifinal round of the WNIT after their 66-48 victory over Illinois on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.

K-State will now host Utah on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Florida and Drexel will play in the other semifinal matchup.

The Wildcats finished eighth in the Big 12 this season and began postseason play with a losing record. Had it not even been for Kansas getting into the NCAA tournament, K-State would already be making plans for offseason conditioning.

Instead, the Wildcats (19-17) are riding a four-game winning streak in the WNIT and seem to be getting better with every game. Just ask Illinois, which scored a season-low 48 points against the seven-player Wildcats.

“It just feels tremendous to know this team has scratched and clawed their way to this position,” K-State head coach Deb Patterson said. “There’s no quit in this team. That’s the K-State way.”

The Wildcats advanced to the WNIT semifinals for the third time in school history in what was probably their most complete game this postseason. K-State outrebounded the Illini 31-26, shot 46 percent from the field, came away with 14 steals and collected 18 assists to just 13 turnovers.

“This is exciting and I think it’s starting to hit us as we get closer and closer,” said senior guard Brittany Chambers, who scored a game-high 21 points. “In a tournament, when you win one or two games, you’re still really far away from the end goal. Now, we have win No. 4 and it’s starting to shine a little bit brighter.

“We still have to keep our head on and go one game at a time, but it feels great. Its not just winning four games in a row, but consistently playing well four games in a row, which takes a lot of maturity.”

Including Chambers, three Wildcats scored in double figures Saturday, as Chantay Caron finished with a career-high 19 points and Haley Texada added 16. Chambers, who had five 3-pointers to move into ninth in NCAA history with 349, has scored at least 20 points in a school-record nine straight games.

K-State led by 10 at halftime and wasted no time extending that lead to 16 midway through the second half when the Wildcats made five of their first six shots from the field. Caron made 6 of 9 from the field and scored 13 points in the second half to key a final 20 minutes in which the Wildcats shot a sizzling 54 percent and broke the Illini’s zone defense.

“When they were trying to cut us off on the outside, with multiple players coming out, that means somebody is open and that person was down low and it was Chantay,” said Texada, who was 7 of 15 from the field. “Her game was on and we just kept throwing it in.”

The last time the Illini (19-14) led was at the 14:42 mark of the first half at 8-7. It was all K-State after that, as the Wildcats went on a 15-0 run — highlighted by a trio of 3-pointers from Chambers, Texada and Bri Craig — to take a 22-8 lead.

Illinois, which got a team-high 20 points from Karisma Penn, did fight back, using a tough, in-your-face press to force the Wildcats into several costly turnovers to go on a 9-0 run and cut into the lead 22-17.

It was short-lived, though, as K-State answered with a 7-0 run of its own to regain control — four points from Caron and a 3-pointer by Chambers — and never looked back.

“That was maturity from our team and great composure,” Patterson said. “It said a lot for our team — that’s the first time they’ve seen that look — this is an opponent you’re unfamiliar with and you have a day-and-a-half to prepare. I thought our response to that was good. We didn’t panic. We just made adjustments and made quality plays.”

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