With lessons learned, Wildcats set to face Princeton

By Joshua Kinder

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Brittany Chambers doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

A year ago, also in Connecticut and with the prospect of playing the storied University of Connecticut basketball program in the second round, Chambers said the Wildcats might have overlooked their first-round opponent Purdue.

The Wildcats lost that game 53-45 and in turn, snapped K-State’s streak of six consecutive NCAA tournaments making it to the second round.

Chambers doesn’t intend to lose another game because the eighth-seeded Wildcats looked too far ahead when they play 9-seed Princeton here on Saturday at 10:20 a.m. (CST) — televised on ESPN2.

“I think the way we don’t overlook them is because our returners, to some extent overlooked Purdue last year,” Chambers said Friday. “We learned our lesson and I don’t think we intentionally did it, but when the game was all said and done, I think we were focusing on the hype — that we’re at Connecticut and we would play them in the next round.

“I think, to an extent, we didn’t come out completely focused on the right things against Purdue. Not that we thought they were a bad team, but in the back or our minds, we’re thinking, ‘Connecticut is at the game watching us and we’re going to play them next round.’”

Yet, a win Saturday would likely match the Wildcats with that UConn team on Monday, assuming the No. 1-seeded Huskies get past 16-seed Prairie View A&M (17-15) on Saturday.

Chambers said the best way to look at the possible game with UConn is to use it as motivation against Princeton, which enters the weekend matchup as one of the hottest teams in the country riding a 17-game winning streak.

The Tigers (24-4) earned the highest seed in Ivy League history this week, as well as being the first team from their conference to break into the Associated Press poll, ranking No. 24.

Princeton, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 17 when it played Stanford, has defeated its opponents by nearly 20 points per game. In fact, 16 of their 17 straight wins were by at least 10 points. The Tigers’ only losses came to Delaware, Navy, DePaul and Stanford.

“We know they’ve beaten teams by a high margin, but its one of those things where their advantage is their confidence at this point,” said Chambers, who was a first-team All-Big 12 selection this season. “The disadvantage for them is that they haven’t played against the same kind of teams that we have this season.”

K-State, though 19-13 overall, boasted the nation’s fourth-toughest strength of schedule playing in the Big 12. The Tigers’ schedule, however, ranked just 86th nationally, while playing in the much-less competitive Ivy League.

“I’m not saying which one is better, which one is worse,” Chambers said. “I think it could be to our advantage because we feel well prepared because of the teams we played. At the same time they have confidence coming into this game, as they should.”

Princeton features Ivy League Player of the Year in junior forward Niveen Rasheed, who averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game this season. But Rasheed is far from the only player the Wildcats will have to key on Saturday, as Princeton has three players with at least 1,000 career points scored, including guard Lauren Edwards and 6-foot-3 center Devona Allgood, who averaged 11.5 and 10 points per game this season, respectively.

“They’re an excellent basketball team that plays with great chemistry,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “Rasheed is a tremendous scorer. Their post players bring a physicality and confidence to the floor, plus their guards are versatile.

“It’s a team that separates itself with consistent excellence and balance and the legitimate national-caliber of play they bring to the floor. It reminds me of the Harvard team that took to the floor and upset Stanford when Allyson Fester was playing.”

That Harvard victory in 1998 is the only Ivy League victory in the NCAA tournament to this day.

Princeton, which is making its third straight NCAA appearance, hopes to make it another Saturday.

“Being in the tournament the last two years definitely provides us with a lot of experience,” Allgood said. “These last two, if felt like we were going out for the first time, but this year, with the experience, we should have a different showing.”

K-State sophomore Chantay Caron said Princeton reminds her of Baylor because of the way the Tigers attack the basket.

“We know they’re a very athletic team and they like to spread the floor and drive it,” she said. “We played teams like that in The Big 12 all the time. They remind me of a Baylor team, the way they drive it to the rim, minus a Brittney Griner in the middle, of course.”

Senior guard Tasha Dickey sees similarities too Baylor as well, but said the Princeton offense also looks a lot like that of BYU, a 10-seed in the tournament that K-State defeated 59-46 back in November.

“They run a lot of motion, do a lot of back-screening with cuts and they never stop moving,” she said. “They don’t stay in one spot a lot. We have to be ready because with their offense, you can’t have a set play, because they can do whatever they want with it.

“BYU moved around a lot and set a lot of screens — they were always moving and we had to run off screens the entire time.”

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