Kansas University’s women’s basketball team hasn’t played since its nine-point loss at California (now ranked No. 7) on Dec. 21. The Jayhawks didn’t let that setback ruin their holidays.
Coach Bonnie Henrickson said No. 21 KU has too many mature players to remain down in the dumps. Although Kansas fell, there were positives taken from the nonconference finale.
“That’s as good we’ve played all year — in all of our games,” Henrickson said, noting the Jayhawks’ confident start and assertive play against a Top-10 opponent on the road.
Once Cal built a second-half lead, KU (9-2) kept cutting into it but then found itself trading baskets with the Golden Bears.
“When we needed some toughness to get a stop, that’s where we struggled,” Henrickson said, adding the Jayhawks need to clean that up so history doesn’t repeat itself.
Their first chance to prove themselves defensively will come today — 7 p.m. tipoff at Allen Fieldhouse — against Kansas State, the Big 12 opener for both schools.
KU senior forward Carolyn Davis said the Jayhawks ended their nonconference schedule playing well, despite road losses at Cal and Arkansas in two of their last four games.
“We have to learn from it. We have to fix some things, but we’ve got to focus on K-State,” Davis said. “We could’ve won those two games, but we can’t dwell on it too much, because K-State’s a totally different team, and we’ve gotta be ready for them.”
The Wildcats (9-3) don’t have the same kind of post presence they’ve been known for in the past. K-State starts five perimeter players, none standing taller than 5-foot-11. Henrickson said Kansas has spent its most recent practices breaking down K-State’s perimeter-oriented, dribble-drive offense. Davis (6-3) knows the Sunflower Showdown could be challenging, because she and fellow forwards Tania Jackson (6-2), Chelsea Gardner (6-3), Bunny Williams (6-1) and Asia Boyd (6-1) all likely will have to defend guards away from the paint.
“We’ve learned at practice to take advantage of our advantages,” Davis said. “We know on the offensive end we can dominate inside and on the offensive boards.”
KU’s balanced scoring could be a plus as well. While K-State senior guard Brittany Chambers leads the Wildcats in scoring (19.7 points), rebounding (8.9 boards) and assists (3.0), just two of her teammates average more than seven points — sophomore substitute guard Haley Texada (11) and freshman guard Bri Craig (8.9). Lawrence native and Free State product Chantay Caron, a junior forward, averages 5.3 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks have six players averaging at least seven points: Davis (15.9), senior point guard Angel Goodrich (13.4), sophomore Gardner (9.5), sophomore guard Natalie Knight (7.9), junior Jackson (7.7) and senior guard Monica Engelman (7.4), who needs just two points to become the 25th Kansas player to score 1,000 in a career.
Two of K-State’s three losses came against currently ranked teams — No. 24 Texas A&M; and No. 5 Notre Dame — on back-to-back nights at the World Vision Classic, in Las Vegas, nearly two weeks ago. The Wildcats lost by 23 to the Aggies and 30 to the Fighting Irish.
The Wildcats have won four straight in the Sunflower Showdown. KU last won, 70-60, at Allen Fieldhouse in 2010. Henrickson’s teams are 2-15 against K-State. But none of KU’s last four losses has been by more than five points, and Henrickson, the ninth-year KU coach, said K-State’s success and the competitive games of late make for a great rivalry atmosphere.
Davis tore her left anterior cruciate ligament in the opening minutes the last time the rivals met — a 47-43 K-State victory on Feb. 12, 2012, in Manhattan. She said the showdown can get intense, because both teams want to be the best in the state.
“It’s a little less than Missouri,” Davis said of the rivalry, “but it’s there, and it’s a game where both teams come out and play their best basketball, no matter what.”