Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jayhawks take on Illinois St. in WNIT semis

The Kansas women's basketball team is moving on to the semifinals of the WNIT.


They say Danielle McCray does it all for Kansas University’s women’s basketball team.

Yet Kristi Cirone may do even more for Illinois State than McCray does for the Jayhawks.

Cirone, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, is a three-time Missouri Valley Conference player of year who leads the Redbirds in scoring, steals and assists. Cirone’s 18.6 points per game topped the MVC.

“The ball is in her hands about 90 percent of the time,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “She’s perpetual motion. She never, never stops.”

Cirone and McCray, both named to the AP All-America honorable mention list on Tuesday, will go head-to-head in tonight’s WNIT semifinals.

Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse. The game will not be televised.

How to guard Cirone has preoccupied Henrickson ever since the Jayhawks advanced to the WNIT semis with a 78-69 quarterfinal win at New Mexico on Monday night.

“We can’t chase her with just one person,” Henrickson said. “That won’t be effective.”

Neither will putting an overemphasis on containing Cirone.

“We can’t fall asleep on their other players,” Henrickson said.

On paper, another key match looms at center where Illinois State’s Nicolle Lewis can look Krysten Boogaard, KU’s 6-5 center, right in the eyes.

“Lewis is really good,” Henrickson said. “She and Krysten are the same height, but I think Lewis is probably stronger.”

Lewis averages 10.1 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds a game. ISU has another double-figure scorer in guard Maggie Crick, a 5-11 junior who averages 12.6 points a game.

Illinois State (27-7) won the regular season MVC championship, but was stunned by Evansville in the league’s post-season tournament and wound up in the WNIT.

In their three previous WNIT games — all at home in Normal, Ill. — the Redbirds dispatched Louisiana Tech (73-59), Marquette (51-50) and Indiana (66-55).

Illinois State knocked off Indiana on Sunday night, meaning the Redbirds have had one more day to prepare for tonight’s semi than the Jayhawks who didn’t arrive back in Lawrence from Albuquerque until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday.

“That might take something out of us physically,” Henrickson said of the wee-hour arrival, “but the kids are young, they’re excited and we’re playing at home. That will help us. We’ll be fine.”

Kansas is in uncharted territory. No KU women’s team has ever reached the Final Four of a postseason tournament. At the same time, no KU women’s team has ever played a game in April.

Tonight’s winner will meet the winner of the other semifinal — South Florida (25-10) at Boston College (23-11) — at 1 p.m. Saturday on the campus of one of the surviving teams.


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