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Originally published March 12, 2012 at 06:33p.m., updated March 12, 2012 at 09:39p.m.

KU women make NCAA Tournament as 11 seed, will face sixth-seeded Nebraska in first round Sunday

Kansas junior Monica Engelman, left, hugs senior forward Aishah Sutherland while the rest of the team celebrates after the team learned its NCAA tournament fate during a tournament selection watch party held in the Naismith Room in Allen Fieldhouse Monday, March 12, 2012. The Jayhawks received the number eleven seed in the Des Moines region and will face  sixth seeded Nebraska in the first round.

Kansas junior Monica Engelman, left, hugs senior forward Aishah Sutherland while the rest of the team celebrates after the team learned its NCAA tournament fate during a tournament selection watch party held in the Naismith Room in Allen Fieldhouse Monday, March 12, 2012. The Jayhawks received the number eleven seed in the Des Moines region and will face sixth seeded Nebraska in the first round.

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On Saturday, Kansas University women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson and Nebraska women’s coach Connie Yori were in the same high school gym recruiting for the future.

Little did they know, their immediate future would include a head-to-head match-up in this week’s NCAA Tournament.

For the first time in Henrickson’s eight seasons at Kansas — and the first time since 2000 — KU earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs. The 11th-seeded Jayhawks will play No. 6 seed Nebraska at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Little Rock, Ark., in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I saw her, got up and walked over and said, ‘Hey, congratulations on a great year. I never got to see you play, so talk to me about your team,’” recalled Henrickson of her encounter with Yori. “I told that to the (KU) players, and they asked if she talked to me. I said, ‘Yeah, she talked to me, but I talked about us, too.’”

The Jayhawks learned of their match-up with the former Big 12 foe Monday night in front of a crowd of more than 50 supporters and media members in the Naismith Room at Allen Fieldhouse. It was delivered in dramatic fashion. With the ESPN broadcast of the women’s selection show blaring throughout the room, the Jayhawks watched three full regionals get released without them.

The first uneasy moment of the night came shortly after 6:06 p.m., when the team saw that fellow bubble friend and conference-mate Texas, a team the Jayhawks had beaten twice this season, was in as a No. 9 seed. The news created a stirring reaction.

“I didn’t know what to think,” junior point guard Angel Goodrich said. “I was a little frustrated at first, just thinking in my head, ‘What’s that do to us?’”

Not long after — when the second of four regionals was released — several Jayhawks felt their hearts skip when they saw “Kansas St.” come across the screen as a No. 8 seed. Once they realized it actually was the Wildcats, most members of the team laughed. That included Henrickson, who said, though heart-wrenching, the moment provided a needed dose of relief.

After three full regions were out, the Jayhawks were down to the nitty gritty. Although 16 spots remained, the Jayhawks realistically knew that they only had a shot at two or three of them. Collectively, they all leaned forward in their chairs and stared a little harder at the TV screen hanging on the wall. When the analysts reached the bottom half of the Des Moines bracket, the magic happened, and the place exploded.

“I was like, ‘They would do that,’” said Goodrich of the selection show waiting until the very end to reveal the Jayhawks had made it.

In the end, the KU women learned that their résumé was good enough to earn a spot in this year’s field of 64, and that set off a wild celebration that brought a few tears, lots of hugs and a pile of chairs that at one time served as the seats for a nervous bunch and later the perfect backdrop for one heck of a party.

“It’s really, really cool, and their reaction is the best,” a still-glowing Henrickson told media members shortly after the celebration subsided. “Just listening to them and watching them was priceless. Seeing their reaction at the end is exactly what you want to see from them, and you want all of your student-athletes to feel that. I’m just really happy for them.”

Despite finishing the season with two victories in its final eight games and bowing out in the quarterfinals of last weekend’s Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks (19-12 overall, 8-10 Big 12) made the NCAA field as an at-large selection, one of seven schools from the Big 12 to earn a bid. Many believed it was the strength of the conference, and the Jayhawks’ five road victories within it, that helped them qualify.

“I feel like we’re in the best conference in the country,” said Aishah Sutherland, the team’s lone senior. “Eight (Big 12) teams probably should have been selected, but seven is good. We’re in it, and that’s all that matters.”

Added Henrickson: “We felt like how well we played and how hard we played down the stretch and being in the best women’s basketball conference in the country would help us.”

KU’s focus now shifts from sweating out a tourney bid to preparing for the Cornhuskers. Last year, in its final season in the Big 12, Nebraska swept two games against the Jayhawks, including a 25-point victory in Lincoln, Neb.

With former Nebraska assistant (2005-10) and current KU assistant Tory Verdi now on their side, the Jayhawks believe they’ll be ready for the challenge. Verdi was one of the people in the room Monday who was moved to tears. He also kick-started one of the team’s celebratory jump circles.

“Nebraska … we used to play them,” Sutherland said. “We know all about them, and Tory used to coach there, so that’s gonna help a lot.”

Added Goodrich: “This whole weekend’s been nerve-racking, just waiting for this moment and wondering what’s gonna happen. But we got what we wanted, and it was worth the wait. It really was.”

Comments

ths609 2 years, 8 months ago

Congratulations!!! Very happy for the KU women!!

bshooper15 2 years, 8 months ago

Yay for Coach Henrickson and her Lady Jayhawks!!

Ben Kane 2 years, 8 months ago

i don't your judgement of bonnie is very fair considering the injuries that have happened the last few years.

JayHawkFanToo 2 years, 8 months ago

Why don't we just celebrate what the team accomplished and leave the coaching critique for another time.

Congratulation girls, you did great under a lot of duress. Have fun and bring us a few wins.

Steve Jacob 2 years, 8 months ago

Surprised. ESPN had them as the fifth team out today.

Bangkok_Jayhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

That is surprising! Congrats ladies. Still hope to get a new coach next year.

MinnesotaJay 2 years, 8 months ago

Congratulations, sort of. 'In' is one thing. 'Win' is another. Now is the time to put it all together.

Craig Lang 2 years, 8 months ago

It's too bad that they aren't playing in Detroit, then we could say the men's team is playing Detroit in Nebraska, while the women's team is playing Nebraska in Detroit!

like_n_Lawrence 2 years, 8 months ago

Wow! What a shocker. I did not think this would happen, but boy am I happy. Now I don't have to be for a different Kansas team, just to have someone to yell for. Thank you!

Armen Kurdian 2 years, 8 months ago

AWESOME! I hope you beat NU 100-0...bunch of quislings.

mumbojumbo 2 years, 8 months ago

Congratulations ladies and now makes us proud of you. Good luck.

jhox 2 years, 8 months ago

That's great news for a team that lost its best player to injury during the season. Congratulations, ladies.

Lash 2 years, 8 months ago

Great job. Let's kick some Husker butt ladies. This is the start of great things to come.

FSUJHAWK 2 years, 8 months ago

This is awesome! Good luck ladies.

RCJHGKU!!!

webmocker 2 years, 8 months ago

I am incapable of enjoying even a short moment of unabashed support of the team I allegedly support. I must be critical at the best of times, and hyper-critical the rest of the time.

Cody Stumma 2 years, 8 months ago

Way to go girls! Now take down the Huskers!

ahpersecoachingexperience 2 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jgkojak 2 years, 8 months ago

I may have mssed it - hey LJW - how about the ladies brackets?

jayhawker_97 2 years, 8 months ago

good luck ladies, all the best! Murphy's Law is in effect, may the wind be always at your backs!

go Lady Jayhawks!

Dirk Medema 2 years, 8 months ago

The article would indicate that with Davis they are probably an 8 seed (see UT), and probably finish better than 500 as well.

phogthedog 2 years, 8 months ago

We were sitting in a sports bar last night anxiously waiting for the brackets.....waiting.....waiting...waiting! This is terrific news. Congratulations to the team and coaches. We're especially glad for Aishah. What a way to end your senior season. Rock Chalk!

The_Real_Hawkman 2 years, 8 months ago

I watched part of the selection show was lucky enough to see the ladies get picked and I let out a YES, hopefully this turns some heads of a few high school players and they decide to come and help this become a yearly thing. Congrats Coach B

John Boyle 2 years, 8 months ago

What is the matter with you guys all calling for a new coach! If Davis hadn't gotten hurt this team would have a had winning record in the toughest conference in America. They probably would have gotten a 6 or 7 seed. The girls need to pull together as a team and go out and win a couple games for Carolyn.

Angel Gillaspie 2 years, 8 months ago

YAY! I am excited & proud - you made it! You'll do great! Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Go KU!

Ludwig Supraphonic 2 years, 8 months ago

Great work through adversity. A real reward for Senior leadership, Congratulations Aishah Sutherland!

Tony Bandle 2 years, 8 months ago

You all know what??...I have been as big a critic of Bonnie as anyone but this is very good news.

Let's all chill. Bonnie has another year on her contract, so, now that she has broken through the NCAA Barrier, let's see if she can build on the momentum for next season before we make a final judgement.

Some guy coached for 15 years before he won a national title.........that guy???

John Wooden!!

Tony Bandle 2 years, 8 months ago

manginorh00lz, Fair enough..this year she made the NCAA's...next season she makes the Sweet Sixteen.....next season after that, it's at least the Elite Eight if not the Final Four...if she falls short at any time...she's out!!

TheGiftedOne 2 years, 8 months ago

I guess I'll have to do the editing because the writer/whoever printed this couldn't. KU split with Nebraska last year including a 16 point home win and an OT loss on the road. More solid journalism from the LJWorld.

Waylon Cook 2 years, 8 months ago

Gives us our 3 new head coaching candidates another year to pad their resumes.

Brandon Schneider-SFA Lane Lord-Pitt State Jamie Green-Newman.

TheGiftedOne 2 years, 8 months ago

No one can say Bonnie doesn't try... if anything she works and tries to leave her fingerprint a little too much. But she does work with 18-21 y/o's

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