BRIDEGPORT, Conn. — Kansas State wanted to make history Monday night, but this wasn’t exactly what the Wildcats had in mind.
The Wildcats, playing against one of the most storied basketball program’s in the women’s game — in its home state — watched their season come to an end in a game that was over almost before it even started.
Behind four players in double figures and a defensive performance for the ages, No. 1-seed Connecticut handed eighth-seeded K-State its worst loss of the season, cruising to a 72-26 victory in the second round of the NCAA Championship at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
The 26 points scored by K-State was the lowest total by a team in NCAA tournament history and the fewest scored by any Deb Patterson-coached team in 16 years at K-State.
“It is extremely — beyond disappointing to have taken the floor and competed so ineptly tonight,” Patterson said. “I’m tremendously disappointed for our seniors and our team. Credit UConn on their play on both ends of the floor.
“We were obviously dominated in every phase of the game tonight. Why? I could not tell you, but we definitely did not look like the team we were all year.”
K-State, which shot just 17 percent from the field, needed a buzzer-beating jumper from Brittany Chambers at the end of the first half to even crack double digits, as the Huskies (31-4) took a 38-10 lead into halftime.
“We just really executed really well tonight,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We made Kansas State play a little quicker than they really want to and that probably led to a lot of their missed shots. Their ability to control the ball and the tempo was gone, so that just made it worse for them.”
The Wildcats, who were paced by Chambers’ 11 points and six rebounds, led 3-2 to start the game. Unfortunately, that was the only lead the Wildcats (20-14) had all night.
K-State proceeded to miss 18 straight shots during a span of 11 minutes before senior forward Jalana Childs ended the drought with a basket at the 8:09 mark of the first half.
But the hole was already to deep for the Wildcats, as the Huskies continued to pile on, answering Childs’ basket with a 10-0 run to lead 29-5 with 5:27 to play in the opening half.
Chambers then buried her second 3-pointer of the game to again slow the bleeding. But like before, UConn had an answer and rattled off another eight straight points before Chambers’ last-second shot before halftime.
Compounding the problem for the Wildcats was that they had numerous open looks early, including wide-open 3-pointers that simply didn’t fall. A lot of the missed shots from deep resulted in run-outs for a quick UConn team that would capitalize on the other end.
As the game went on, it only got worse for K-State, as UConn pressured the Wildcats the length of the floor to knock balls away and intercept passes intended to break the press.
“They were aggressive,” Patterson said. “They threw double-teams, sped us up a little with the press, and our transition from the press into offense wasn’t good tonight and that got us rattled.
“The physicality and the steady play of UConn defensively, we just didn’t respond well to it. We weren’t making quality decisions being guarded. We were throwing over the defense and weren’t spacing the floor well. It was the unrelenting nature, and we made it easier and easier for them as time went on.”
UConn, which has been to four straight Final Fours and won three of the last four national titles, improved to 20-2 all-time in NCAA tournament second-round games. The Huskies, who got a game-high 16 points from Bria Hartley, shot 53 percent in the first half and finished at 51 percent for the game. UConn outrebounded the Wildcats 45-32 and forced K-State into 20 turnovers.
“(UConn) has five players committed to the defensive effort at all times,” said Chambers, who was 4-for-16 from the field, including just 3-for-12 behind the arc. “You don’t find a lot of holes. We had some open shots early in the game but we didn’t convert. When you play against a defense like that, they make you do things you don’t want to do.”
K-State, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in its last eight appearances, was 4-for-31 from the field in the first half and finished just 10-of-57 for the game — including 4-of-26 from behind the arc.
“They were committed to defense and made it hard inside and out,” said Childs, who had six points and six rebounds in her final game as a Wildcat. “They got us to do thing we didn’t want to do, forcing shots — we had open looks we couldn’t covert. It was a great defensive effort by UConn.”