Archive for Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Woodling: Women like men last year

February 28, 2006

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Far be it from me to compare men and women. I'm not touching that one. And yet I feel compelled to liken this season's Kansas University women's basketball team to - are you ready? - last year's KU men's team.

Sure, it's like comparing pumpkins and peaches, but bear with me.

Both teams, you may recall, began with high expectations, if on a different plane.

Last year's KU men opened No. 1 in the AP poll, then affirmed that prediction by winning their first 14 games, including nine of their first 10 at home. However, coach Bill Self's team dropped six of its last nine, including the bummer to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This year's KU women's basketball team did not open as No. 1. The Jayhawks didn't receive a single preseason vote. But a favorable early schedule, solid returnees and a couple of new faces gave promise of producing the first women's NCAA postseason berth in six years.

When coach Bonnie Henrickson's team opened with an astounding 12 straight victories, all at home, euphoria reached a fever pitch. Then reality hit like a sledgehammer. The Jayhawks lost six of their next seven games and nine of their next 11.

To carry the comparison a step further, the 2004-05 KU men's team had three players who averaged in double-digit scoring - Wayne Simien (20.3), Keith Langford (14.4) and J.R. Giddens (10.1).

Same for this year's KU women. Crystal Kemp is averaging 19.0 points, Erica Hallman 14.7 and Kaylee Brown 12.0. Very similar, wouldn't you say?

Let's climb another rung. Consider that Simien and Kemp are basically the same type of player. Both lack athleticism and thus defensive skills, but each possesses a deft shooting touch rare for a tall player, while each also has the knack of using bulk and positioning to accumulate rebounds.

At the same time, both Kemp (Topeka High) and Simien (Leavenworth High) are among the best high school products to come out of the Sunflower State.

On the flip side, the 6-foot-8 Simien is right-handed and Kemp left-handed. There's another difference, too. Simien, as you know, missed a bunch of games during his days in a KU uniform because of injuries. Not Kemp.

The 6-2 southpaw has been a rock. Kemp has never missed a game during her college career. Moreover, she rarely has been on the bench during the last two seasons. When all is said and done, Kemp will rank in the top 10 on KU career charts in scoring, rebounding and minutes played.

It's also possible to draw a comparison between Hallman and Langford, who, as seniors, were quintessential second bananas - complementary players who could do some things well, but weren't particularly gifted in a particular area.

In terms of overall success, Kemp and Hallman were light-years away from Simien and Langford in terms of won-lost records, but that doesn't negate what they accomplished as individuals.

I hope the fans who show up for the KU women's last home game Thursday night against Kansas State understand that.

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