Her teammates and coaches call her “D,” as in short for Danielle, not as in short for defense. It’s her offense that makes Danielle McCray a legitimate All-American candidate, heading into next season. She’ll worry about that then. For now, all McCray and the rest of the Kansas University women’s basketball players have on their minds is South Florida, today’s opponent for a 1 p.m. tipoff at Allen Fieldhouse in the WNIT finals.
McCray doesn’t necessarily have to be on fire for the Jayhawks to win. She does need to score. Like most great scorers, McCray figures out how to have a productive day on less than her best day.
Asked what she liked best about McCray’s game, Kansas point guard Ivana Catic didn’t hesitate in giving an answer.
“I would say her confidence,” Catic said of McCray. “Even if she doesn’t have a good game shooting-wise, she’s going to get on the boards. If she doesn’t make shots she’s going to draw fouls, get to the free throw line and knock them down and gain confidence back. For somebody who has her athleticism, her talent, confidence is just the little piece, but probably the most important piece. She knows how to use what she has. Obviously, she knows she’s going to have the best defender every night, probably even two or three different people, but she still believes she’s going to knock down shots. She still believes it should be her who takes the most shots. That’s the greatest thing about her.”
In the second half of Wednesday night’s three-point victory against Illinois State, McCray was open for a shot on the right wing and wanted the ball. Catic didn’t get it to her right away. The opening closed and by the time Catic passed it to McCray, she was guarded. McCray was fouled on the play and got her points at the line. Adrenaline pumping, McCray let Catic have it.
“Throw me the ball!” she loudly told the point guard at point-blank range.
Catic put her hands on McCray’s powerful shoulders and said, “OK, now you need to calm down. I’ll get you the ball.”
A day later, Catic talked about that very confidence, that hunger to score, as McCray’s greatest asset. That’s what’s known as a team. The players are comfortable communicating what they want out of each other.
In that game, Illinois State was determined to deny McCray shooting opportunities.
“I thought our kids did a great job on her, I really did,” Illinois State coach Robin Pingeton said.
Still, McCray scored 31 points, 22 coming in the second half. She made only 1 of 5 three-point shots, so she found her points elsewhere, making 9 of 13 attempts from inside the arc. Exceeding 30 points for the third game in a row, McCray picked them up on drives, pull-up jumpers, putbacks and free throws. Once, she was fouled hard in mid-air under the bucket. It didn’t so much as throw her off balance and the shot went off the glass and in. She’s a winning blend of strength, quickness, speed and determination. Mix all that with a soft shooting touch and the result is that only one player in program history has scored more points in a season than she has scored this season. Lynette Woodard did so in each of her four seasons at Kansas. The air doesn’t get any more rarefied than that.