The combination of fatigue and playing without its best player proved to be too much to overcome for the Kansas women’s basketball team during a 72-69 loss to North Dakota State Monday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
And that was never more obvious than the final four minutes and 32 seconds. The Jayhawks, who were playing in their first game in 11 days and without leading scorer Holly Kersgieter, missed its final 10 shot attempts from the floor over that span.
KU, which returned to practice on Sunday after having both of last week’s games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, still had a chance to send the game to overtime at the end. Brooklyn Mitchell missed a layup attempt on the final possession, as Kansas fell to 4-2 on the year.
“It’s a difficult situation to evaluate,” coach Brandon Schneider said. “I think rust is to be expected. I say that taking nothing away from North Dakota State. I thought they played really well, especially the final three quarters of the game.”
“I thought we had two players play really well,” Schneider said of Tina Stephens and Mitchell. “We just didn’t get much help scoring wise with the absence of Holly and Mia (Vuksic) and defensively I thought it was obvious that we haven’t guarded a basketball in eight days.”
Despite all that, even just one more timeout might have made all the difference on Monday.
Schneider called three timeouts in the final 27 seconds, which allowed Kansas to stay within striking distance of North Dakota State (5-1) late in the contest. The Bison led by as many as 5 points in the final minute.
After a timeout with 14 seconds remaining, Schneider designed a play to get a 3-point attempt from Julie Brosseau, who was fouled on the shot. Brosseau made all three of her attempts at the free-throw line to cut the deficit to 71-69.
North Dakota State missed its first attempt at the charity stripe on the other end, but made the second try. Needing a 3-pointer to send the game to OT, the inbound pass was rolled to Mitchell and she didn’t pick it up until near midcourt when there were 8.1 seconds remaining.
Mitchell, a junior guard, drove hard to her right all the way to the basket before firing up a layup with 5.5 seconds to go. The ball bounced off the front of the rim, and North Dakota State’s Ryan Dobbins collected the miss before passing the rock to a teammate as time expired.
“We didn’t execute,” Schneider said of the final play. “We would have liked to set a flare screen there and that didn’t happen–but (a) situation you don’t want to be in with no timeouts. I think knowing time and score is something we failed (at) on that particular possession.”
Kersgieter, who is averaging 17.4 points per game and shooting 50% from 3-point range, could have helped prevent Kansas from a cold streak that included the team missing 13 of its final 15 shot attempts. In fact, KU’s starting backcourt went a combined 5-for-23 from the field in the loss.
But none of that held the Jayhawks back from the start. They jumped out to a 18-5 lead in the first quarter before faltering down the stretch. The Bison scored at least 20 points in each of the final three periods.
Tina Stephens led the hosts in scoring with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Mitchell finished with 15 points, while Brosseau added 13 points. North Dakota State, a team coached by former KU assistant Jory Collins, had three players finish in double figures in the win.
Collins, who is in his second season at the helm, served as an assistant for Schneider during the 2018-19 season. They also served on the Emporia State staff together.
“Jory and I go way back,” Schneider said. “We felt like this would be a good game for us right before the Christmas break to see where we are at. I know he made us better today.”
Kansas will be back in action on Dec. 29, when it hosts New Mexico State in Allen Fieldhouse. Tipoff is slated for 12 p.m.