BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A year ago the Kansas State women’s basketball team stood in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., looking up at the seven national championship banners hanging in Connecticut’s arena.
On Monday night at 6, the eighth-seeded Wildcats will play that No. 1-seeded Huskies team in the second round of the NCAA Championship only a short bus ride away at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
“It’s UConn,” K-State junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “They’re a great team and they have so much tradition and pride there. I’m excited to be able to take the court again, no matter who it’s against.”
UConn, which has played in four straight Final Fours and won two of the last three national titles, defeated 16-seed Prairie View A&M 83-47 on Saturday.
Though an impressive tournament opener for the Huskies (30-4), facing one of the nation’s best teams isn’t new to K-State this season.
The Wildcats, who defeated 9-seed Princeton 67-64 on Saturday, have already played the No. 1 team in the country three times this season — Baylor — a team that defeated UConn 66-61 back in December. K-State (20-13) also navigated through the rough waters of the Big 12 and finished tied for fourth in the No. 1 RPI league in America, including a big win over defending national champion Texas A&M.
But this is UConn, a program that is 19-2 all-time in the second round of the NCAA tournament and owns the game’s two longest winning streaks of 78 and 90 games.
“I think it would be easy to get caught up in that stuff, but we’ve already been tested this year,” Chambers said. “We’ve had to play teams like Texas, Oklahoma, A&M and Baylor, obviously. And we haven’t backed down to any of those teams. We’ve played the best of the best, so I don’t see us to coming out and being intimidated by Connecticut.
“I won’t count our team out.”
Branshea Brown echoed her teammate’s sentiments.
“They put their pants on just like we do,” said Brown, who scored a career-high 22 points in the Wildcats’ win on Saturday. “UConn is a great team and I’m not trying to disrespect them, but we can’t be afraid because it’s UConn. We just have to play our game and do what we do.”
Chambers is just happy UConn doesn’t have Brittney Griner on its roster.
“We’ve played the number one team three times and the third time, we played with them the whole second half,” she said. “Then to play Connecticut, who doesn’t have a Brittney Griner, who scores 45 points… I think we can play with anyone and I’m excited to have a chance to play a team like that — a great team — that doesn’t have Brittney Griner.”
A chance to line up against the best is what the NCAA tournament is all about. But again, for K-State, that’s been the story of the Wildcats’ season.
“I think we have an understanding that the great successful programs like Baylor and UConn, deserve all the respect, but we relish the opportunity to step on the floor and compete against them,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said.
“We’ve gotten beat by Baylor by an average of 25 points the last two years, but every time we take the floor, it’s with an expectation that we can succeed.”
UConn — ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll — no longer has Maya Moore, who went 150-4 during her career with the Huskies. But UConn does have four players who average double figures, led by dynamic senior guard Tiffany Hayes at 15.1 points per game.
The Huskies also come at opponents with freshman forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis off the bench (14.8), sophomore guard Bria Hartley (13.6) and 6-foot-5 sophomore center Stefanie Dolson (10.2).
“They’re well-coached, they execute, they have athletes and they have size,” Chambers said. “You have to prepare for everything against a team like this.”
“We’re always up for a challenge,” K-State senior Jalana Childs said. “They’re a great team. We’re going to have to do our best. We have to fight, fight like we always do.”
No. 8 KANSAS STATE (20-13)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Reb.
G — Brittany Chambers Jr. 5-8 14.3 6.3
G — Tasha Dickey Sr. 5-10 10.1 4.1
G — Mariah White Jr. 5-8 5.3 4.7
F — Jalana Childs Sr. 6-2 14.5 4.9
F — Branshea Brown Sr. 6-2 5.2 4.7
No. 1 CONNECTICUT (30-4)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Reb.
G — Tiffany Hayes Sr. 5-10 15.1 5.7
G — Carolina Doty Jr. 5-10 5.3 2.0
G — Bria Hartley So. 5-7 13.6 4.0
G — Kelly Faris Jr. 5-11 6.3 5.3
C — Stefanie Dolson So. 6-5 10.1 6.0