Down by double-digits midway through the third quarter, Arizona guard Malena Washington decided to let the ball roll in front of her as she walked up the court, waiting until the last possible second to pick it up in attempt to savor the clock.
That’s when Kansas’ Jessica Washington saw an opening and took it. The junior transfer dove on the floor and nearly stole the ball at half court. Though she did not end up with the rock, it was indication of how the entire team played Saturday.
The Jayhawks were resilient on the defensive end and put their bodies on the floor when necessary, to push past the Wildcats, 75-51, at Allen Fieldhouse. With the loss, Arizona (7-2) snapped its five-game win streak, while KU (5-5) earned its second straight victory.
“I do think the last two ballgames our effort has been consistent, which is an ingredient that has to be there,” KU coach Brandon Schneider said. “We are going to make some mistakes, all teams do, but your mistake can not be lack of effort.”
In terms of field goal percentage, the Wildcats were eerily similar to the weather outside all afternoon — ice cold. Arizona shot just 30.8 percent from the floor, including 7.7 percent from downtown, thanks in large part to the Kansas’ swarming defense.
For four quarters, players on the KU squad played in-your-face, man-to-man defense and caused stress on the opposition. Schneider periodically elected to mass substitute in order to keep fresh bodies on the floor. And it worked to perfection.
Arizona coughed up 15 turnovers, which led to 15 points for Kansas.
“They did a great job just denying of us and making us work hard to get open and that’s the first time we faced that,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “That gave us some problems and I felt like they did a good job with their game plan of doing that.”
The Jayhawks were in full force with the return of senior forward Caelynn Maning-Allen, who was out with a concussion for three games. Sophomore guard McKenzie Calvert also returned after missing the previous game due to sickness.
With a reinforced unit, Schneider was able to constantly have a energized lineup out on the floor from opening tip to the final buzzer. As a result, the Kansas bench outscored its opposition, 38-16.
“I didn’t really go into the game thinking that way,” Schneider said. “Just with the group we had, I felt like giving it a shot today. I thought it paid dividends.”
Washington, who scored a team-high 16 points, came out strong, scoring the first three baskets. She even recorded an assist on the fourth, when Timeka O’Neal drained a baseline 3-pointer to give Kansas an early lead. On the other side, they set the tone with how the day was going to be, as Washington and Sydney Umeri each drew a charge in the early minutes.
The lead eventually increased to double-digits, 16-6, after the opening period. The margin would only increase in the second quarter as Kylee Kopatich and Chayla Cheadle began to get in the passing lanes. The two of them finished with a combined five steals.
On offense, Calvert started to knock down shots, notching eight of her 14 points in the first half to give Kansas a 34-20 advantage at the intermission. It marked Calvert’s sixth double-digit scoring effort of the season.
“When you make a mistake on offense, coaches usually yank you,” Calvert said. “But (Schneider) lets you play on offense. But because we are such a defensively sound team, you make a mistake, it means something. Because we go over defense 90 percent of our practices.”
The third quarter was much of the same as Kansas continued to be aggressive on the defensive end, which led to rushed shots by Arizona.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Wildcats began to get some sort of fluidity on the offensive end. They opened the final period on an 8-0 run to trim the deficit to 11. But Schneider again went to a fresh lineup and the Jayhawks stalled the comeback attempt to avoid any further damage.
“We are still a team that does not have big leads very often,” Schneider said. “We are still learning that you have to keep your foot on the gas pedal.”
Kansas will play host to UC Riverside at 7 p.m. Wednesday.