The Kansas women’s basketball team saved its best for the second half Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhakws dug out of a nine-point hole to beat Vanderbilt, 74-67.
Though KU led throughout the fourth quarter, the home team had to fend off the Commodores late to prevail in the nonconference matchup, which was part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Veterans Holly Kersgieter, Zakiyah Franklin and Aniya Thomas combined to handle all of the Jayhawks’ scoring in the final three minutes, paving the way for KU third win in a row.
A junior guard, Franklin (eight points) found her way to the hoop to score a late-game layup and give KU a 64-56 lead with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter.
Thomas, who scored all 15 of her points in the second half, as the Jayhawks (7-1) played their best basketball down the stretch, drilled a critical 3-pointer with just under two minutes to play, making it a two-possession game and a 62-56 edge in KU’s favor.
Before going 6-for-6 on free throws in the final minute, Kersgieter (16 points, four assists, three steals) knocked down a jumper with 2:43 to play, putting an end to a push by Vandy (5-5). The Commodores had just trimmed the Jayhawks’ lead down to 57-54, on a Brinae Alexander (game-high 23 points) 3-pointer in transition.
KU shot 50% from the floor and went 21-for-23 at the foul line in the victory, helping offset the 22 possessions lost via turnovers (15 were committed in the first half). Most of those easy free throw points came from Kergieter (7-for-7), Franklin (6-for-6) and Thomas (4-for-4).
A 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter provided KU with some breathing room, as well as its first double-digit lead of the afternoon.
Head coach Brandon Schneider, a day after celebrating his 50th birthday, said he much preferred the way the Jayhawks battled in the second half, after they trailed, 28-19, at the break.
“The main adjustment was just we have to play tougher and have to play harder,” Schneider said.
The coach emphasized to his players that their biggest takeaway from the home win should be understanding that the physical and mental toughness they showed in their comeback win will be necessary throughout Big 12 play in the near future.
“We can’t always rely on a big second half. We’ve got to play better and tougher and that has to be who we are,” he said.
The Jayhawks recovered from a nine-point deficit early in the third quarter. An 11-0 run was filled with Thomas highlights, as she rattled off nine consecutive points after a layup inside by Taiyanna Jackson (15 points, seven rebounds).
KU’s third-quarter play helped swing the game, as the Jayhawks outscored the visitors from the SEC, 27-15. It was much needed, too, after KU only scored 19 first-half points and saw Vandy win the second quarter, 16-4.
“I just thought that we were really, really soft in the first half,” Schneider said, adding the Jayhawks allowed Vandy to take the ball away from them and beat them on the glass.
The Jayhawks are off for a week before concluding a three-game home stand next Sunday, when Santa Clara visits KU.