Originally published January 24, 2015 at 2:57 p.m., updated January 24, 2015 at 11:36 p.m.
The game notes for Saturday’s Kansas University women’s basketball game against West Virginia featured each Jayhawk wearing a superimposed mask to celebrate Superhero Day at Allen Fieldhouse.
Sitting smack dab in the middle of the photos of KU’s starters was senior Chelsea Gardner sporting an Iron Man mask, and, when the teams took the floor, Gardner did her best Iron Man impersonation, leading Kansas to a 65-59 victory behind 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
Gardner’s monster day marked the first time a Jayhawk had topped 20 and 20 since Tracey Claxton recorded 36 points and grabbed 28 rebounds in a 1981 victory over Pacific Christian.
The double-double was Gardner’s first in Big 12 play this season and did not come from the Jayhawks dumping the ball to her in the post. Most of her points and rebounds came within the normal flow of the offense. Fellow seniors Asia Boyd (15 points, Thor mask) and Natalie Knight (14, Flash) also reached double figures in scoring on a day when the Jayhawks (11-9 overall, 2-5 Big 12) trailed by 10 in the first half and four at halftime before taking charge in the final 20 minutes.
“They should do it, they’re capable of doing it, and this team needs for them to do it,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said of the three KU seniors.
Night in and night out, stopping Gardner is the focal point for KU’s opponents. West Virginia coach Mike Carey flashed a bit of sarcasm when asked about that concept.
“You couldn’t tell, could ya?” Carey said.
Gardner, who said she did not have a favorite superhero growing up but admitted she was at least a little inspired by seeing her head shot with the Iron Man mask on it, made nine of 14 shots and ripped down six offensive rebounds and 14 defensive boards. She may have challenged Claxton’s numbers had it not been for foul trouble limiting her to 30 minutes.
“I think she did a great job,” Henrickson said of her standout forward. “But it wasn’t like we just threw it into her and let her go to work. She has to play with a tremendous amount of effort and equally disciplined.”
For the most part, Gardner did that. And she did it without pressing.
“I know that they’re gonna come and not allow me to get multiple shots,” Gardner said. “But when I’m in, I think, just play.”
Added Carey: “Chelsea Gardner’s a great player. She’s hard to guard. But what frustrated me the most was that so many of her points and offensive rebounds came off of dribble penetration.”
Credit Boyd, Knight and freshman point guard Lauren Aldridge for that. Aldridge (Captain America) finished with seven points, a career-best eight assists and five steals as the fourth element of KU’s offensive attack. And that trio continually forced West Virginia (12-7, 2-5) into retreat mode.
“Any time the guards are aggressive and we look to attack, it opens things up and takes the pressure off of Chelsea,” Boyd said. “We ask a lot of her.”
Asked if she thought the Jayhawks might start hoping for even a little bit more from their all-conference forward, Boyd was not shy with her answer.
“Of course,” Boyd said. “Run it again. Definitely.”
The KU women will look to make it three victories in a row at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Ames, Iowa, against Iowa State.
During the first half Saturday, Claudijah Lever, a rower from Milwaukee, was honored with the Marlene Mawson Exemplary Student-Athlete Award, presented to her by Mawson, known as the Mother of KU Women’s Athletics, rowing coach Rob Catloth and senior associate athletic director Debbie Van Saun.
Hokie in the house
Former Virginia Tech basketball player Rayna DuBose, who played for Henrickson at Va-Tech, was at Saturday’s game, in town as the featured guest for Kansas Athletics’ diversity training.
DuBose, who was introduced during a timeout Saturday, will speak to more than 500 KU student-athletes during her time in Lawrence about the challenges of overcoming bacterial meningitis, which took all four of her limbs during the spring of her freshman year in college
“I get to introduce her, and she already said I don’t get to cry,” Henrickson said. “But it’s hard for me not to when I talk about her. It’s just unbelievable energy and an unbelievable story. It’s really, really cool and great to see her.”