A struggle in the paint for Texas Tech and an inspired defense by Kansas led to the Jayhawks defeating the Red Raiders 67-50 Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
One great example of Kansas’ defensive showing came in the second quarter, when what could have been a simple layup for Texas Tech quickly turned into a disaster. Guard Alexis Tucker was blocked three times on a single possession by Kansas junior center Bailey Helgren.
“I think I knew I had to be a presence inside,” Helgren said. “So in that moment I was just kind of in the right spot.”
KU (12-4 overall, 1-4 Big 12) regained possession and set up another transition opportunity on the other end, where sophomore guard Brooklyn Mitchell found junior forward Tina Stephens for an easy layup.
This marks the Jayhawks’ first Big 12 win after starting conference play 0-4. Kansas coach Brandon Schneider said it’s still early in the season, and that previous stretches of games — the first two quarters against Baylor and recent fourth-quarter performances — have been an issue.
“We’ve played some pretty tough opponents here,” Schneider said. “Having Tina back really helps us in terms of our rotation and our depth. We felt really comfortable with our rotation, and not having her for three games in a row was definitely an obstacle.”
KU’s defense led the way, especially in the first quarter, when the Jayhawks forced seven turnovers. All seven were steals, with freshman guard Zakiyah Franklin, sophomore guard Aniya Thomas and senior forward Mariane De Carvalho each recording a pair and Mitchell recording one.
KU led 17-13 at the end of the first quarter, even with Mitchell temporarily exiting the game with an apparent leg injury less than three minutes in — she returned at the 4:25 mark — and the Jayhawks missing easy shots.
The Jayhawks continued to pressure the Red Raiders (12-4, 1-4) with their defense in the second period, even forcing a shot-clock violation on Texas Tech’s first possession. Helgren’s block party and four more turnovers for the Red Raiders gave KU plenty of chances to blow this game open.
The Jayhawks did go on a 12-5 run to end the half, with freshman guard Holly Kersgieter nailing a 3-pointer right before halftime to put KU up 34-25.
Even with the Jayhawks missing six layups and shooting 3 of 11 from 3-point range, KU made plays when it needed to to stay afloat in the first half offensively.
And that offense came out on fire as KU started the second half with a 9-0 run to force a Texas Tech timeout. Tucker hit a floater midway through the quarter to end the scoring drought, but KU was still firmly in control with a 45-31 lead.
The Jayhawks later held a 53-39 lead at the end of the third quarter despite turning the ball over eight times. But Texas Tech failed to climb back into the game as the Red Raiders had six turnovers of their own.
“We just didn’t play very smart,” Schneider said. “I thought we made some plays where we didn’t see it before we did it. Without question, the eight turnovers in the third quarter was the most disappointing part of tonight’s game.
“Hopefully we’ll learn from that, but I also want us to really feel pretty good about how we played defensively.”
Texas Tech trimmed the margin to 55-45 with just over six minutes to play, but Schneider called a timeout to regroup his team.
“I felt like we needed to get organized and get a good offensive possession,” Schneider said.
KU went almost five minutes without a field goal, but Texas Tech also continued its tough shooting night.
Although it’s been a tough stretch opening up Big 12 play, Schneider said he’s proud of how his Jayhawks have handled themselves against contrasting styles of play.
“I think we’re making progress, but every game is a different challenge,” Schneider said.
Next up, KU visits Texas on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.