Depleted and taken to the limit, the Kansas State Wildcats found a way to advance in the Big 12 women’s tournament.
Using only six players, three of whom played at least 37 minutes, the Wildcats made the play they needed in the final second, pulling off a 51-49 victory over Texas on Friday night at the American Airlines Center. No. 8 seed K-State, 15-16, will face top-seeded Baylor, 29-1, in the quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Chambers did what great players do,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “She went back door while we stopped and they made a play.”
With 10.8 seconds left and the score tied, K-State coach Deb Patterson called a play for guard Mariah White to drive to the basket, hoping for a layup or to kick the ball outside for Haley Texada. But White’s drive was stopped and she found herself surrounded by the Texas defense. With time running out, White saw senior Brittany Chambers racing to the basket on a backdoor cut, and Chambers’ layup at the buzzer bounced twice on the rim before falling.
“I thought for sure I had missed it,” Chambers said. “I told Coach 'P' it would have haunted me the rest of my life. It felt like it was on that rim for 10 minutes. It was terrible.”
The officials studied the replay before ruling the basket good, setting off a raucous celebration.
The depleted Wildcats, down to seven active players as a result of five season-ending injuries, found themselves even further understaffed when guard Bri Craig picked up her second foul barely two minutes into the game.
Craig, one of the conference leaders in minutes, played only 16 minutes because of foul trouble. Chambers and Texada each played all 40 minutes, and White played 37.
Not that Chambers had a problem with that.
“We’re used to it,” she said. “We’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in. And sometimes when you play with five players it can be an advantage. When you’re subbing people in and out, sometimes people get out of rhythm. We have five players who have played every minute together this year, and we can get in a rhythm quick.
“Instead of looking at it as a negative, we’re taking advantage of what we can do.”
Lacking the numbers and the size to combat ninth-seeded Texas, 12-18, and its 6-foot-7 freshman center, Imani McGee-Stafford, the Wildcats spread the court, let the shot clock run down — they were called for four-shot clock violations — and worked the ball deliberately, looking for an open three-pointer.
Indeed, 32 of K-State’s 51 attempts for the game were threes, including 20 of their 28 in the first half — not a surprise for team whose 884 three-point tries obliterated the Big 12 season record. And while the Wildcats made only five of those first-half threes, their collapsing man-to-man defense held the Longhorns to miserable 26.7 percent shooting and K-State took a 27-17 halftime lead.
Chambers and Texada carried the Wildcats offensively, combining for 39 of their 51 points. Chambers had nine rebounds to go with her 20 points, while Texada scored 15 of her 19 in the first half, and both hit three three-pointers.
When it came down to it, though, the Wildcats ignored the long ball and went to the basket for the winning shot.
“It’s kind of crazy that we scored in the lane, but they were expecting us to shoot a three,” Chambers said. “We didn’t back cut all game but we were looking to shoot threes all night, so that back cut was wide open because for 39 minutes, all we were doing was popping for threes.”