In four seasons at Kansas State, Branshea Brown has never sought the spotlight, but she basked in it on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
Brown, a senior forward, scored a career-high 22 points with seven rebounds for the eighth-seeded Wildcats in a 67-64 victory over No. 9 seed Princeton 67-64 in front of 4,563 fans at the Webster Bank Arena.
“Today was just all about me and my teammates fighting hard to get this win to advance,” said the soft-spoken Brown, whose previous high score was 14 points against St. John’s in 2010. “I had the opportunity and my teammates just gave me the ball at the right time. I scored the ball and we all just played hard.”
It was hard to argue with the Tigers’ decision to focus on stopping all-Big 12 first-teamers Brittany Chambers and Jalana Childs, but the plan backfired when Brown scored 12 points by halftime, when K-State led 31-27.
“She works her tail off (in practice) and competes so hard,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “For her to step up in this type of game at this point in the season is just such an unbelievably neat thing.”
Childs added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats, 20-13, who will play top-seeded UConn, 27-4, at 7 Monday night for a spot in the regional semifinals. It was K-State’s first tournament win since 2009, when it beat Drexel in the opener in Albuquerque, N.M.
Niveen Rasheed led Princeton, 24-5, with 20 points.
The Wildcats made five of 15 shots from three-point range, but one that went in was a momentum changer in the second half.
With Princeton up 41-39, K-State freshman Ashia Woods blocked Rasheed’s driving layup. Mariah White grabbed the rebound while falling out of bounds and banked it off a Princeton player to retain possession.
At the other end, White buried a three-pointer for a 42-41 lead with 12:07 left.
“It gave us momentum,” said White, who had four points, four assists and three blocks, “and we ran with it.”
Princeton never regained the lead but kept it close. A layup from Childs gave K-State its largest lead at 53-45 with 8:17 left, but it was quickly whittled down to 53-52 with a 7-0 run from Princeton.
Childs converted a three-point play for a 56-52 K-State lead with 6:28 remaining, and the combination of six points from Brown and a five-for-six effort from the foul line helped K-State sustain it.
The Tigers helped with a few costly turnovers and finished with 14 to K-State’s 10.
“We never got comfortable,” Childs said. “We took the lead and we knew we had to keep it up, but it was never a comfort thing. … You can’t take any team for granted. We just stayed in it and stayed mentally tough.
“Our confidence is built now after we got this W and we are ready for the next one.”
Princeton came in 24-0 when leading at the half, but 0-4 when behind. Despite an early second-half surge, which gave the Tigers a 39-35 lead, they failed to end that trend.
“It all comes down to a few plays,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said, “and a few didn’t go in our favor.”