BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Princeton knew all about Brittany Chambers and Jalana Childs.
One player the Ivy League champions didn’t count on was Branshea Brown.
It’s a safe bet now, however, that Princeton won’t ever forget her name.
The Kansas State senior blew up for a career-high 22 points to lead the eighth-seeded Wildcats past 9-seed Princeton 67-64 on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Championship at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
“She was so determined to win,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said of Brown, who surpassed her previous career high of 14 points. “She blocked shots, she defended well and at the beginning of the game, her rebounds gave us a chance to stay in the game when we were so passive.
“Brandy buried people low on the block and she scored with a variety of moves — turnarounds over her right shoulder, hooks over her left shoulder and face-up 17- and 18-footers.”
Brown put together the complete game for the Wildcats, who advanced to play No. 1-seed Connecticut on Monday night with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
After scoring 12 points in the first half, Brown kept it going in the second, including one stretch late in the second half when the 6-foot-2 forward scored on three straight possessions for K-State.
“We decided to focus on Jalana Childs, and Brown just had a great game,” said Princeton guard Niveen Rasheed, who had a team-high 20 points. “We stuck to our gameplan and we were all focused on that. Brown just had a great game.”
The win puts the Wildcats (20-13) into the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season and snapped Princeton’s 17-game winning streak in what had been a season of firsts for the Tigers (24-5).
Though only one Ivy League team has ever won an NCAA tournament game before — Harvard in 1998 — Princeton seemed determined to make it two wins at the start of the second half.
Princeton, which shot 46 percent from the field and turned the ball over 14 times, used a 10-2 run to open the second half and take a 37-33 lead with 17 minutes to play.
But K-State answered with a basket from Brown to lead a 6-2 surge of its own to tie the game at 39. Then after the Tigers regained the lead at 41-39, the Wildcats again responded and began to pull away, but only briefly.
The Wildcats, who shot 43 percent from the field, went ahead 47-43 on a 3-pointer from Tasha Dickey and then made on 49-43 on a hook shot from Brown.
Princeton stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws from Rasheed, but K-State wasn’t finished, as it continued to pull away, taking its biggest lead of the game at 53-45 with 8:16 remaining.
The Tigers charged back, though, and got within one at 53-52 on a 3-pointer from Lauren Edwards with 6:51 to play. That was as close as Princeton would get the rest of the way.
K-State kept the Tigers at arm’s length the final 5 minutes, helped by a three-point play from Childs, three straight baskets from Brown and making 6-of-8 from the free throw line to seal the victory.
“They were like ankle-biters,” Dickey said of Princeton. “They just wouldn’t go away. They were right there in your face, doing whatever they needed to do to win.”
But in the end, it was K-State on top.
“We never got comfortable today,” said Childs, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “We took the lead and we knew we had to keep it. It was never a comfort thing, as we’ve been through games where we’ve been up on a team by 20 and they’ve come back on us.
“You can’t take any team for granted — we just stayed mentally tough. Our confidence is built now that we got the ‘W’ and now we’re ready for the next one.”
As big as Brown was for the Wildcats Saturday, the bench was equally as solid. Freshman Ashia Woods provided K-State with a defensive boost in 24 minutes with three blocked shots to go with four points, while Chantay Caron hit a huge 3-pointer just before halftime to give the Wildcats a 31-27 lead at the break.
“Really, the difference-makers in the game today were Ashia Woods, defensively — she did a tremendous job,” Patterson said. “Chantay Caron, in like her 2 minutes of play, made a big 3-pointer to give us the lead at halftime. I’m so proud of the young who came off the bench.”
K-State opened the game with a 5-0 run, but quickly found itself behind after the Tigers used a 12-2 surge — powered by a pair of 3-pointers — to go ahead 12-7 with 11:50 left in the first half.
The Wildcats, who scored 21 points off Princeton turnovers, came right back, however, and took a 14-12 lead on a 3-pointer from Woods.
Both teams traded baskets for the next 6 minutes before Childs scored on a fast-break layup from a Brittany Chambers feed to take a four-point lead at 26-22 with 3 minutes left in the half. Chambers had six points, two rebound and two assists.
Rasheed and Brown then traded baskets before Princeton got within one on a free throw with 40 seconds left.
But Caron came through with 20 seconds left in the half when she buried her big 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a needed cushion.
K-State will now face a UConn (30-4) team on Monday night at 6 that defeated 16-seed Prairie View A&M 83-47 on Saturday.
“I’m excited,” Brown said. “I’m excited to be in the second round. It’s my last tournament, so I’m going to make the most of it.”
Brown got off to a good start on Saturday.