A team known for closing out opponents did so again Saturday night — and in the process reached highs unseen in Lawrence in more than 20 years.
The Kansas women's basketball team recovered from a prolonged shooting slump and used a 10-point run late in the fourth quarter to defeat Kansas State 63-51 at Allen Fieldhouse.
The victory gave the Jayhawks (17-5, 8-4 Big 12) a five-game Big 12 winning streak for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and an eighth conference win for the first time since 2012-13 — the last time they made the NCAA Tournament.
"I mean, it feels good to get a win, a home win, obviously, against a rival," said coach Brandon Schneider. "I wish it counted two, but it only counts one."
Junior guard Holly Kersgieter had her second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and she surpassed 1,000 career points midway through the first quarter to become the first player recruited to Kansas by Schneider to reach that milestone.
The Jayhawks were led in scoring by junior guard Zakiyah Franklin, who finished with 16 points and six assists, and junior center Taiyanna Jackson had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The excitement over the victory was dampened when Franklin and Chandler Prater collided head-to-head at midcourt with 23.5 seconds remaining. They each left the court bleeding; Schneider said they each needed stitches and were being evaluated for a concussion.
Kansas was stout defensively, especially late. They held the Wildcats (17-8, 7-6 Big 12) to 1-for-22 from 3-point range and 32.8 percent (21-for-64) overall.
Kansas, meanwhile, shot 38.6 percent (22-for-57) and had a 48-31 edge in rebounding against a team led by one of the conference's best centers in junior Ayoka Lee, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"They have one of the premier players in the country," Schneider said, referring to Lee. "I think the game got a little muddy today, but I think that's because we know each so well, and I would give credit to both teams for really playing to the scout and making it hard on each other. It was a really competitive game and I thought any basket today really had to be earned."
Kersgieter entered the game needing eight points to become the 30th player in school history to reach 1,000 points, and she didn't wait long to do so. She hit the mark with 4:32 remaining in the first quarter when she sank a 3-pointer from the right wing.
"It doesn't really get much better than that," Kersgieter said. "I feel good. There's a lot to celebrate, but even though it was a big day, we still have a lot of work to do. This was a good way to do it. ... I'm grateful. It's a great thing to have."
Her 3-pointer gave the Jayhawks an 11-2 lead, but the Wildcats clawed back to within 13-7 at the end of the quarter.
The expected showdown between Jackson and Lee, who are both 6-foot-6, didn't materialize in the first half. Jackson battled foul trouble and was limited to just four minutes, and her replacement, Nadira Eltayeb, also picked up a pair of fouls.
That forced the Jayhawks to turn to a pair of little-used substitutes in junior Chisom Ajekwu, a Lawrence High grad, and freshman Danai Papadopoulou. They also faced challenges while going against Lee; in fact, Papadopoulou, who made her first appearance since Jan. 8, also picked up two fouls.
Lee, who scored 61 points against No. 14 Oklahoma on Jan. 23, propelled the Wildcats to a 26-24 lead at the end of the first half by knocking down a jumper in the lane with 0.8 seconds remaining.
But things changed early in the third quarter once Jackson returned to the court. She scored eight points in the period, including two on a drive through the lane that forced K-State to call a timeout with 5:30 to play and led to her teammates mobbing her in celebration at center court.
That basket was part of a 16-0 run that lasted 7:12 and only ended once Lee made a pair of free throws with 43.3 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Those foul shots in turn launched a run by Kansas State, which trailed 45-36 at the end of the third and opened the fourth on a tear. It scored the first nine points of the quarter, and a wide-open 3-pointer by Laura Macke with 8:27 remaining, the only one the Wildcats made all game, drew them within two at 45-43 and forced Kansas to call a timeout.
Kansas went more than five minutes of the fourth quarter without scoring, at which point its lead had evaporated. But unlike the first game in Manhattan, when Kansas recovered from a 16-point deficit to tie the score late but lost, it closed Saturday's game by outscoring Kansas State 18-4 over the final five minutes and making its last five shots.
The Jayhawks will look to extend their winning streak to six on Tuesday when they play host to West Virginia, whom they beat 65-47 on the road on Wednesday.
That win, and the game the following Saturday at Texas Tech, will be crucial to Kansas' NCAA Tournament chances. It finishes the season with games against the top four teams in the conference in Iowa State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma, all of which are ranked.
"I'm really proud of how our young ladies have remained confident, but I think they've approached every preparation with humility and maturity, and that's how we're going to do it," Schneider said. "I stand by what I said — nine (Big 12 wins), you probably get in. Ten, you're comfortable. But we're not there yet, and if you've looked at our schedule, it's pretty tough here down the stretch."