Folks who like to walk and jog in Allen Fieldhouse can thank Kansas University’s women’s basketball team for a reprieve.
KU officials announced last week the venerable arena would be closed to the public when basketball season ends. And now, thanks to the Jayhawks, the basketball season will go as far as it possibly can go.
Soon after Saturday’s 1 p.m. clash with South Florida for the WNIT championship, Allen Fieldhouse will be shuttered for renovations.
In retrospect, that refurbishment came awfully close to beginning as early as Thursday morning because Wednesday night’s semifinal against Illinois State turned into a nail-biter after the Jayhawks blew most of a 17-point lead.
Only some timely late free- throw shooting by Nicollette Smith and Danielle McCray enabled KU to escape with a 75-72 victory and a berth in the first postseason tournament title game in school history.
Kansas (22-13) had hit the Redbirds with a 15-3 haymaker to begin the second half, but wilted late, leading to speculation the Jayhawks might have been fatigued after winning a quarterfinal late Monday night in New Mexico.
Henrickson didn’t think so, however.
“I thought we were gassed early, and I was surprised by that,” the fifth-year KU coach said. “But (fatigue) isn’t an excuse when you’re young and because of what you’re playing for.”
Henrickson used only seven players against ISU, but McCray was the only one who went the route. Ivana Catic and Sade Morris logged 33 minutes apiece. Smith and Krysten Boogaard, the other starters, each spent 26 minutes on the floor.
McCray continued her late-season scoring rampage by netting 31 points — right on her average for the Jayhawks’ four WNIT games — yet overlooked in Wednesday’s stirring victory was KU’s defense against ISU standout Kristi Cirone.
Cirone wound up with 24 points, including an amazing 10 in the last 24 seconds, but she also misfired on 17 of 24 shots as Henrickson alternated defenders against her.
At times, Catic, McCray and LaChelda Jacobs shadowed Cirone, but Sade Morris logged the most minutes against the three-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year.
“Both (Cirone) and who was guarding her probably felt like they were in a track meet,” Henrickson said.
Saturday’s foe, South Florida (26-10), has been just as hot as the Jayhawks. The Bulls have won eight of their last nine, with the lone loss to NCAA powerhouse Connecticut.
USF finished with an 8-8 record in the Big East Conference and will be playing its third straight WNIT road game. The Bulls advanced with an 82-65 triumph over Boston College on Wednesday night in Chestnut Hill, Mass.