This wasn’t the birthday present Brittany Chambers and Mariah White were hoping for Wednesday night.
Kansas State’s two birthday girls ended their careers Wednesday with a 54-46 overtime loss to Utah in the WNIT semifinals at Bramlage Coliseum.
Playing in the final week of the postseason, the Wildcats rallied from nine down at halftime to tie the game at 39 with 2:33 remaining in regulation, only to watch the game slip away in the extra 5-minute period.
Trailing 35-23 with 12:45 to play, K-State finally got the run it was missing in the first half when Chambers led the Wildcats on a 16-4 surge to tie the game. The senior scored six points on the run, including the game-tying layup off of her own 3-point miss. Haley Texada, who scored seven of her 11 points on the run, also connected on a big 3 to get the Wildcats within six with 9:34 to play.
Utah, which advanced to play Drexel for the WNIT championship Saturday afternoon, outscored the Wildcats 15-7 in overtime, highlighted by a clutch 3-pointer from Rachel Messer with 1:41 to play to make it a two-possession game. It was Messer’s only basket of the game and it proved to be the game-winner as K-State was unable to answer down the stretch.
“I thought we did a great job of battling back,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “We had all the momentum in the world. I thought we had a couple of good looks the last couple of possessions, but again, we got back to that inability to finish.
“We were just really working so hard to get back to that point and weren’t able to separate at all. We had the momentum, but we just couldn’t quite separate. All we needed was one more basket.”
The Utes (23-13) scored two more points in OT than they did in the entire second half — overcoming stifling defense by K-State that allowed the Wildcats to claw back into the game.
“That was critical because I think our defense lost a little bit of its mojo in overtime in a game where every basket was really so hard to come by for both teams,” Patterson said. “I thought our defense let down.”
Chambers ended her career with a double-double, scoring a team-high 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, snapping a string of nine straight games with at least 20 points. White finished with six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the final game of her career.
Decimated with injuries throughout the year, the Wildcats relied on the senior duo in the final two months of the season to carry just seven healthy players to K-State’s longest postseason run since 2007 when the Wildcats last played in the WNIT semifinals.
“I think that with everything that we’ve gone through and the young players we have on the court, we are very lucky and privileged to be playing in a postseason this far,” said Chambers, who was 5 of 21 from the field and just 1 for 7 from behind the arc. “Credit our coaches and our players for stepping up, working hard and not giving in.
“It was a tough season, and we found a way to make postseason, and we fought to make it to the final four of the WNIT.”
The Wildcats (19-18) fought to the bitter end, overcoming a first half in which K-State shot just 22 percent from the field, connected on just one 3-pointer and trailed by as many as 14 points. The Wildcats, who were just 3 for 27 from long range on the night, missed 10 of their first 12 shots and played catch up from the opening tip until they managed to tie the game in the final minutes of regulation.
“We couldn’t have played worse in the first half, and we were only down nine, so we felt good going into halftime because we could have been down by 20 with how we were playing,” said Chambers, who is third in school history with 2,156 career points and second with 350 career 3-pointers. “I thought we fought back in the second half. It still wasn’t that great, but it was enough to get into overtime, which is all we really could have asked for at that point. Unfortunately, we did not come out aggressively at all in overtime.”
Utah jumped out to its big first-half lead on the backs of posts Taryn Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe, who combined to score 19 points and grab 14 rebounds in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Though K-State found a way to slow the two inside in the second half, once overtime started, the Utes again turned to their bigs down low — combining to score 12 of Utah’s final 15 points of the game. Plouffe finished with a game-high 24 points and 13 rebounds, while Wicijowski added 18 points and a game-high 17 boards.
Patterson credited Utah’s dominance on the glass — a 43-28 edge for the Utes — particularly in the second half and overtime to being the difference in the game. Utah outscored the Wildcats 19-10 on second-chance points.
“The difference for us was that we got pasted on the boards with second and third shots in that overtime period,” she said. “Those were very critical rebounds and extra possessions they got and eventually scored off of. They dominated us on the boards, and they were more effective in that overtime period offensively than we were. In the end, that cost us.”