Natalie Knight, your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to fight through screens, chase the relentless Brittany Chambers, make her night a long one, become the Kansas State star’s personal Knightmare. And, oh, become more aggressive at the other end, too, would you already?
Ninth-year Kansas women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson knew Knight, a sophomore from Olathe, could handle the assignment.
Senior guard and team leader Angel Goodrich knew this was not an impossible mission for Knight or she wouldn’t have wasted her time urging her to drive more, shoot more, put more pressure on the defense.
But did Knight believe she could handle it? Evidently so, because she had a huge night for Kansas in every way Wednesday in a 72-63 victory witnessed by 3,727 fans in Allen Fieldhouse.
Chambers, an All-American candidate, had to work extremely hard for her 15 points and had a particularly difficult time finding high-percentage shots when Knight was checking her. CeCe Harper, especially late, also spent long stretches on Chambers.
“I thought she did a good job of getting into Chambers, staying underneath her,” Henrickson said of Knight. “And she was aggressive, drove into the paint and made plays, hit an uncontested three. And they were more physical on the ball, and she handled that, too.”
Knight, who has started all 46 games of her KU career, entered with a 7.9-point season scoring average. She made seven of 10 shots and scored 16 points, one more than Chambers.
“Chambers is a great player,” Knight said. “I knew it was going to be tough, and we knew we had to limit her touches and make each shot difficult for her.”
Chambers made six of 14 shots, one of four threes and did not have an assist. Afterward, her honest self-analysis told the story of just how effectively Kansas defended her.
“I don’t think I was particularly smart tonight or comfortable with my shots,” Chambers said. “A little bit of a panic, which is something you shouldn’t see from a senior.”
Knight’s strong defensive effort didn’t come as a surprise the way courageous drives into the lane did for the guard who came into the game leading the nation with a 5.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Everybody’s been telling me to be more aggressive,” Knight said. “To be able to do that tonight, it felt good to be able to help my team in that way.”
Knight might have earned herself a respite from relentless advice sent her way from teammates and coaches.
“We have all been on her to be aggressive,” Goodrich said. “We have been wanting her to do that every single game. I think she’s grown more and more into that role of being an attacker and getting to the rim.”
Natalie couldn’t have picked a better night to show that side of her game.