Originally published February 18, 2012 at 03:12p.m., updated February 18, 2012 at 06:20p.m.
The reality hit hard in the postgame press conference following the Kansas women’s basketball team’s 70-65 loss to Missouri on Saturday afternoon.
Any aspirations of an NCAA Tournament appearance most likely faded with the Jayhawks’ defensive meltdown against the Big 12’s worst team.
“It’s a dagger, there’s no doubt about that,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said of the loss. “It’s a dagger.”
Missouri made 57 percent of its shots (27 of 47) despite coming into the game as the Big 12’s worst scoring offense, averaging 53.8 points per game in conference play.
With the victory, the Tigers improved to 11-14 overall and 1-13 in the Big 12.
Henrickson became emotional afterwards when asked if the loss of forward Carolyn Davis to an knee injury on Feb. 12 was causing her team to play with fear. She said, if anything, the team was dealing with the loss of KU’s best player better than she was.
“We won’t use that as an excuse,” Henrickson said, her eyes tearing up. “Neither one of those two (forwards Aishah Sutherland and Tania Jackson) would. Bring all of them in here. They wouldn’t.
“They’d tell you, ‘We’ve got to find a way to win, and we needed to guard better today,’” Henrickson added, tapping the table with her finger for emphasis. “They would not make an excuse for you. They wouldn’t. And I’m not either.”
After trailing by 15 at halftime, KU rallied to make it close.
The Jayhawks had possession trailing 68-65 with 1:01 left, but Angel Goodrich’s bounce pass in the lane intended for Jackson was stolen by MU’s BreAnna Brock.
“I regret that,” Goodrich said. “To be honest, I take it a lot to heart when a situation like that is in my hands, and I lose it. I just gave it back to them.”
MU’s Christine Flores hit both ends of a one-and-one with 27.1 seconds left, and KU missed its final three three-pointers to suffer its third straight loss.
The Jayhawks struggled from the start.
Missouri opened the game on an 8-0 run, helped by three-pointers from Flores and Bree Fowler.
It was a sign of things to come. MU was rarely contested on any of its first-half three-point attempts, making six of eight three-pointers before halftime (75 percent).
“They’ve been shooting threes lights out lately,” Goodrich said, “and that’s all we gave them in the first half.”
KU closed to 26-20 on a jumper by Sutherland with 6:10 left in the first half, but the senior picked up her second foul just over a minute later.
Henrickson checked Sutherland out for the rest of the half, and the Jayhawks scored just two points over the final 5:06. During that time, MU used an 11-2 run to pull ahead, 37-22, at the break.
Henrickson said she believed holding Sutherland out for the rest of the half was the correct decision, especially considering the run KU made in the second half.
“On the road I probably would have put her in, quite honestly,” Henrickson said. “At home, with the crowd and the energy, I felt like we could get back in it, and we did.”
Sutherland scored 19 of her 23 points after the break, but the halftime deficit proved to be too much, as KU couldn’t get any closer than three.
Missouri shot better than 55 percent from the floor for the first time since December of 2005.
“Holy buckets, that’s a long time,” MU coach Robin Pingeton said.
Before Saturday, MU’s top shooting effort was a 44-percent performance against Texas Tech on Jan. 7.
“Uncontested threes and layups,” Henrickson said. “If we got the shots they got in the second half, our field-goal percentage would probably be pretty similar. We made some tough twos, and they didn’t even have to take many tough twos.”
Sutherland led KU with 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting, while Goodrich added 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting with nine assists and seven turnovers.
KU lost in front of a season-high home crowd of 6,402 in its “Jayhawks for a Cure” game.
After starting the season 15-2 and 4-1 in conference, KU (17-9, 6-8 Big 12) has now dropped seven of its last nine games to put its NCAA hopes on life support.
“I’m not really focused on that right now. I’m just focused on the next game,” Jackson said, before raising a hand to her eyes to push back tears.
“This loss is going to hurt us. They were 0-12 in the conference. It’s going to hurt us,” Sutherland added. “We need to win some where people think we’re not going to win.”