No player in school history has enjoyed a better two-game stretch than Kansas State’s Brittany Chambers. The good news for the Wildcats is that she’s saved her best for last.
The senior guard scored a game-high 28 points Monday night to lead K-State into the WNIT quarterfinals with a 57-48 victory over Illinois State at Bramlage Coliseum. Chambers scored a school-record 42 points in the Wildcats’ win over Texas Southern last Thursday, giving her 70 points in the last two games.
“I feel comfortable right now,” said Chambers, who made 10 of 22 shots and grabbed eight rebounds Monday. “I think it goes back to our schedule. We play the best teams every night and play the best defenders every night, so when we come into playing an Illinois State team — no disrespect to them, they are a great team — it gives you a lot of confidence.”
Haley Texada added 13 points and seven rebounds for K-State, while Janae Smith led Illinois State with 19 points and eight rebounds.
The Wildcats, who will host Ball State on Thursday at 7 p.m., cruised to a commanding 36-23 halftime lead behind 21 points from Chambers. K-State (17-17) led by as many as 18 points in the second half, but struggled offensively to close the game. Marred by a late 6-minute lull without a field goal, the Wildcats shot only 22 percent the in the second half.
“I thought we really struggled to be a good team offensively tonight,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “We had little moments of it in the first half, and we didn’t see much of it in the second half… We knew that they were going to keep coming at us. They did nice job inside and out. Obviously they are a very sound, aggressive and competitive Illinois State team. They’re not going to go away. You saw that as they continued to press you. No one is going to go away that easy in the tournament.”
The Redbirds (24-11) cut the deficit to nine with a 3-pointer from Candace Sykes with 4:54 to play and then to eight with 1:43 to go, but couldn’t get any closer — despite K-State’s own offensive deficiencies.
“We were just slow offensively — not running plays right,” said Chambers, who was 3 for 7 from behind the arc and 5 for 5 at the free-throw line. “I over-dribbled, not cutting hard to get to the ball. We weren’t doing the little things to get the offense to run smoothly. We weren’t getting into position when the ball was coming toward us. It was a lack of intensity.
“I think in the first half we brought that, but in the second half we died a little bit, got the lead and relaxed too much. We cannot do that against an Illinois State team that works really hard no matter how far down they are.”
Helping the Wildcats’ cause, though, was the work they did in other phases of the game. K-State outrebounded Illinois State by 10, including a 15-6 edge on the offensive glass, while picking up six steals and still coming away with 11 shots from long range.
“They’re aggressive and they battle,” Illinois State coach Stephanie Glance said of K-State. “We didn’t do a very good job of boxing out. They’re going to just come after it and come after it. They’ve had to fight and they’ve had to play that way because of their injuries, so I said to our team at halftime, ‘they have seven players and they’re gritty and gutsy.’
“They found a way to battle on the boards, to hit 3s, to make assists, to defend, so it’s a credit to them and the way they have found what works for them this year in a very adverse situation.”
With the win, the Wildcats improved to .500 for the first time in 33 days — ever since losing at Oklahoma on Feb. 20.
“We never looked at our record — it wasn’t a representation of what we could be,” Chambers said. “We’ve played unbelievable teams. It feels great to be 17-17 on the season. I feel like people could underestimate us based on our record, which would be their mistake because we have played the toughest teams in the country.”