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Thursday, March 2, 2006

Seniors looking to duplicate feat

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Crystal Kemp and Erica Hallman combined for 54 points in their next-to-last Kansas University women's basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse.

"No one says we can't do it again Thursday," Kemp said with a smile following Saturday's 81-71 victory over Missouri.

Hallman scored 29 points and Kemp 25 in that overtime victory over the Tigers, and the Jayhawks may need another prolific 1-2 punch in tonight's regular-season home finale against Kansas State, winner of the last nine games in the Sunflower Series.

Tipoff will be at 7:05 p.m. CSTV (Sunflower Broadband channel 143) will carry a live telecast.

Traditionally, seniors are allowed to start in the last home game, meaning coaches often have to open with walk-ons or rarely used players. That isn't the case with KU coach Bonnie Henrickson, though.

"It's easy for us," she said.

Kemp, Hallman and Kaylee Brown - her only seniors - rank 1-2-3 respectively in team scoring.

Kemp, a 6-foot-2 senior out of Topeka High, is having a career year, averaging 19.0 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.

"We've relied so much on her the last two years," Henrickson said. "Her consistency has been important to our success."

Kemp has scored in double figures in all 26 games and has posted double-figure rebound numbers in nine of them. When her career is over, she will rank in the top 10 on KU career charts in scoring, rebounding and minutes played.

Although the potential of a WNIT postseason bid means tonight's game may not be the actual home finale, Kemp is approaching game time under the assumption it will be.

"I'm trying not to think about it, but I know I probably will be," she said. "I guess I won't believe it's my last game here until it's over."

Hallman, a 5-8 guard, also could be suiting for the last time in the fieldhouse.

"Erica has been more in control of her emotions this season," Henrickson said. "And, defensively, she's been solid."

Kemp and Hallman, who hails from suburban Cincinnati, have played four seasons on Mount Oread. Brown, a suburban Oklahoma City product, spent her first year at a junior college.

Henrickson hopes the 5-8 Brown snapped out of a shooting slump in the MU game. After scoring a career-high 24 points on Feb. 1 against Colorado, Brown shot only 28.3 percent (17 of 60) in the next six games. But she was 4-for-9 from the field against MU.

Brown was a spark late in regulation, drilling a three-pointer with under six minutes remaining and contributing a pair of layups and two critical free throws down the stretch.

"When you're struggling, we tell them to get another shot," Henrickson said, "and Kaylee got two layups."

While the spotlight will fall on the three seniors tonight, the most important KU player actually may be junior guard Sharita Smith, who has earned her second consecutive start based on helping hold MU's LaToya Bond to only four points.

Although not a scorer, the 5-8 Smith, a junior from Dallas, is the Jayhawks' best defender. She played less than a minute when K-State spilled the Jayhawks, 69-63, on Jan. 25 in Manhattan.

"She gives us defensive energy to start the game," Henrickson said. "I know she didn't make a shot against Missouri, but she's gaining confidence in her shooting."

Smith took just three shots while logging a career-high 39 minutes against the Tigers. Her only point came at the free-throw line.

Win or lose tonight, Kansas most likely will be the No. 10 seed in the Big 12 tournament and play in the 6 p.m. Tuesday game at Reunion Arena.

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