KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is still some life in the Kansas State women’s basketball team after all.
After dropping three straight games to end the regular season, the Wildcats bounced back in a big way on Thursday by winning when it mattered most.
Behind a career-high 31 points from Jalana Childs, fifth-seeded K-State outlasted fourth-seeded Iowa State to win a slugfest 67-63 in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
“Today this game really meant a lot,” said Childs, whose 31 points broke a school record for points scored in a Big 12 tournament game. “We lost three in a row and that’s a terrible feeling. I said it last week, that right now, we’re losers. And I hate that I had to say it, but it was true.
“Getting this win was very important to us. It was really good for our hearts. It was really good for our mindset.”
The Wildcats, who defeated the Cyclones for the first time in three tries this season, advanced to play top-seeded, undefeated and No. 1-ranked Baylor (32-0) today at noon in the semifinals. The Bears defeated No. 9-seed Texas Tech 72-48 on Thursday.
“Anytime you line up against the number-one team in the country and you have the opportunity to take the floor in a Big 12 tournament, it’s game on,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to take the floor. We understand the magnitude of the opponent, but at the same time, it’s a chance to play another 40 minutes and that’s our focus.”
Childs, coming off a 22-point outing in the regular season finale Saturday, played like a senior who didn’t want her career to end, as the 6-foot-2 forward made 13-of-23 shots from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds to post her second double-double of the season.
“When we played on ‘senior night,’ I told someone I thought that was the best I’ve played this season,” Childs said. “I regret not playing like this the whole season because I know I could have done this every game. I have to play like it’s my last game. Whether I score points or not, I have to play like it’s my last game.”
Childs put the Wildcats on her back in the second half by scoring 19 points, including 12 of K-State’s first 16 points of the half. The Orlando, Fla., native then finished the job by scoring seven of the Wildcats’ last 10 points.
But as impressive of a day Childs had offensively, it was what she did on defense that she was most proud of. Childs clamped down on a trio of Cyclones’ posts in Chelsea Poppens, Hallie Christofferson and Anna Prins — holding them to just 19 combined points.
“Their post players — Poppens is a great player,” Childs said. “She killed us, She burned us at home, at our home, and we didn’t want that to happen again…
“I wanted to prove myself, prove myself to my team and to K-State.”
The Wildcats (19-12) led by four at halftime and pushed that to eight just a minute into the second half. It wouldn’t last, however, as Iowa State (18-12) answered and eventually tied the game at 46 with 11:34 to play in a game that went to the final buzzer.
Iowa State, which got 21 points from both Nikki Moody and Lauren Mansfield, took its first lead of the second half at 51-50 with 7:45 left on a three-point play from Christofferson. The Cyclones extended the short lead to four on another three-point play with 7:18 to go.
But K-State, which shot 44 percent from the field and committed just six turnovers, had an answer on the other end with a 9-2 run of its own to lead 59-56 with 4:18 remaining.
Tasha Dickey, who had 13 points, got the Wildcats started with a jumper, followed by five points from Brittany Chambers who scored on a dribble-drive to the basket and a three-point play. Childs then capped the surge with a pair of free throws.
Iowa State wasn’t done either, as the Cyclones tied the game at 59 on a drive by Moody with 3:10 remaining.
Childs answered on the other end when she grabbed a rebound from a Chantay Caron miss and put it back up for the easy two points.
But as quickly as Moody scored on ISU’s previous possession, the speedy point guard hurt her team on the next trip down the floor with a costly pass out of bounds.
K-State, which made 13-of-15 from the foul line, took advantage on the other end when Chambers made 1-of-2 from the stripe to give the Wildcats a three-point cushion with 1:14 remaining.
Poppens, who battled foul trouble all day, got the Cyclones within one at 62-61 with a turnaround lay-in on the ensuing possession. But that was quickly countered when Childs stepped just inside the 3-point arc to bury a long jumper with 22 seconds to play to make it 64-61.
Iowa State, which shot 40 percent from the field and outrebounded K-State 36-34, again brought the deficit to one on the other end with 16 seconds to go. But it wasn’t going to be enough, as the Wildcats made 3-of-4 from the foul line in the final 15 second to seal with win.
“Neither team could pull away,” said Chambers, who was 4-of-9 from the field with 12 points. “I think the most we were up was by six at one point and it lasted 5 seconds. Every time I looked up, it was a two-point lead. What I thought was really impressive on our side — I think they got ahead once in the second half — but we pretty much kept a two or three-point lead.
“Every time they would score, we would answer. That was huge for us to do that because in the past, we’d start forcing things. We just held our composure the whole game.”
Chambers and Childs combined to score 21 of the Wildcats’ last 23 points of the game, something that’s been missing from K-State’s best two scorers of late. And though Chambers was quiet from behind the arc, she still found other ways to help her team win by grabbing eight rebounds and dishing six assists with one steal.
“As we’ve gone through this last stretch here where we’ve struggled some, we made a point, a great deal about how your best players have to step up and make plays,” Patterson said. “That’s what puts you in position to be the best team it can be.
“I thought both of those two with major, major minutes, played tremendously today… I’m really pleased with both of them because those are our first-team All-Big 12 players, and they came and led the team to victory.”