It was not until the 19th game of her freshman season that Kansas University forward Chelsea Gardner truly knew she could play in the Big 12.
That was the day — Feb. 12, 2012, at Kansas State — Gardner, a tall and thin 6-foot-3 forward from DeSoto, Texas, was asked to fill in for junior Carolyn Davis, the Jayhawks’ leading scorer and one of the conference’s top players, whose season ended because of a nasty leg injury in Manhattan.
Up to that point, Gardner had played very little, with 15 minutes against Lamar being her season-high and games against Baylor (13) and Texas A&M; (10) the only other double-digit-minute outings. But with Davis out for the rest of the season, Gardner started the final 10 games of the year — including three in the NCAA Tournament — and showed the first signs of her ability to become a player that later in her career would join Davis in the 1,000-point club.
“I’ll always remember that,” said Gardner of her seven points in 23 minutes at Kansas State. “That’s probably one of my biggest memories of my career, coming in at K-State and having to pick right up and play.”
Tonight, at 7 at Allen Fieldhouse, Gardner and fellow seniors Asia Boyd, Natalie Knight and Bunny Williams will have one of their last memories on Senior Night against Iowa State. Boyd is hurt and will not play, but for the other three it likely will mark their last chance to play in the building they’ve called home for the past four seasons.
“It’s very weird,” Gardner said. “These last four years were like a snap of your fingers, and now it’s over. I can’t believe it. I’m just gonna have to play my heart out because it’s my last game at Allen Fieldhouse and might be the last time I get to touch the floor, so it’s gotta be nice.”
Despite finishing her career with back-to-back disappointing seasons, Gardner said she’ll always remember the back-to-back Sweet 16 runs that came during her first two years. In those days, Davis, Angel Goodrich and Monica Engelman drove the train, and Gardner said she was proud of her super trio — Gardner, Knight and Boyd — for doing a solid job of following in those enormous footsteps.
“I just remember us coming in freshman year, basically like bumps on a log, not knowing anything and feeling like we were dummies on the court,” Gardner remembered. “But we weren’t. We struggled all summer, and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we gonna make these four years.’ But, obviously, we made it, and we’re still together.”
So how does Gardner plan to cap here career with the same kind of memorable moment that it began with back in Manhattan?
“If we get the win, that’s what’ll make me the happiest,” she said. “And I think (tonight’s) gonna be the best game of my life.”
Who: Kansas (14-16, 5-12) vs. Iowa State (18-10, 9-8)
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Allen Fieldhouse
Series: Jayhawks lead 46-32
Asia Boyd, 6-foot-1, Guard
Career highs: 25 points, 11 rebounds
Notable stat: Boyd was the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Kansas during Bonnie Henrickson’s time as head coach. During her senior season at Renaissance High, Boyd was ranked the 39th-best player and ninth best guard in the country.
Chelsea Gardner, 6-foot-3, Forward
Hometown: DeSoto, Texas
Career highs: 34 points, 20 rebounds
Notable stat: This season, Gardner became the first KU player to lead the team in rebounding for three consecutive years since Terrilyn Johnson did it from 1990-92. The only other two Jayhawks to do that were Vickie Adkins (1984-86) and Lynette Woodard (1978-80).
Natalie Knight, 5-foot-7, Guard
Career highs: 25 points, 8 rebounds
Notable stat: A member of KU’s 1,000-point club, Knight ranks second all-time in career three-point percentage (.383) and also sits in fourth place in career three-pointers made (176).
Bunny Williams, 6-foot-1, Forward
Hometown: Duncanville, Texas
Career highs: 8 points, 10 rebounds
Notable stat: Despite mostly coming off the bench, Williams has started 14 games in her KU career.