If it wasn’t Armageddon, it may have been the closest thing to it for Kansas University’s beleaguered women’s basketball team.
Losers of eight of their previous nine games and facing a ranked team in No. 23 Iowa State, the Jayhawks were looking down the road to oblivion.
Goodbye oblivion … at least for now.
Thanks to a yeoman outing from Danielle McCray and a devilish defense, KU stunned the Cyclones, 58-47, on Sunday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse.
“At some point, you get tired of losing,” KU senior guard Ivana Catic said, “and you find a way to win.”
No doubt a crowd of 7,069 had a lot of do with helping the Jayhawks find a way. The season-high throng, many wearing pink T-shirts as part of a breast-cancer-awareness promotion, provided a catalytic spark.
“You could feel the energy,” junior Sade Morris said, “and we took it in.”
McCray was marvelous, scoring 24 points, grabbing 16 rebounds — three more than her previous career high — and contributing three blocks and three steals.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Danielle,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “She let the game come to her, and she rebounded like a monster.”
And yet it was mostly a monstrous defense that enabled the Jayhawks to pull out of their tailspin, notably by forcing the Cyclones to miss 25 of their 30 second-half shots.
“You can’t win going 5-for-30 from the field,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Without question, it was the worst game we’ve played all year.”
All season, the Cyclones have relied primarily on the three-point goal, launching more shots from beyond the arc than any Big 12 Conference team.
But ISU made only three of 16 long-range shots, and that inaccuracy, said Henrickson, was largely due to the Jayhawks’ relentless defense.
“Our kids did a good job of getting them to play faster, to get them out of rhythm,” Henrickson said. “I said every shot needs to be contested, every three has got to be rushed.”
Added Catic: “They can make threes any time so you can never relax, and we never relaxed once.”
Still, Fennelly wasn’t ready to give Kansas’ defense 100 percent of the credit.
“I think that was part of it,” Fennelly said. “But it was a combination of their good defense and our bad offense. Our offense was pitiful. You have to score in this league, and we did not.”
Perhaps the most salient factor, however, was KU’s late domination. Many’s the time this season when the Jayhawks have wobbled down the stretch. Not Sunday.
Kansas was nursing a 46-45 lead with five minutes remaining, then outscored the Cyclones, 12-2, the rest of the way. Both those points were free throws as ISU bricked its last nine shots.
Meanwhile, free throws were another KU strength. The Jayhawks were 17-of-17 at the foul stripe in the second half, 8-for-8 in the last 2 1/2 minutes.
“Finally, in this game we held our lead,” sophomore Nicollette Smith said. “They’re a Top-25 team, but we held our lead, and I think that shows maturity.”
Kansas (14-10 overall, 3-9 Big 12) will travel to Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. Iowa State (19-7, 7-5) has dropped three of its last four.
Notes: KU knocked off a ranked team for the first time since toppling then-No. 23 Texas on Jan. 3, 2006. … The announced crowed was the seventh largest to watch a women’s game in Allen Fieldhouse. … Smith had to be helped off the floor with about 11 minutes remaining after suffering a sprained ankle, but she returned with under two minutes left. … Catic had six assists, but only two points. She has taken only 12 shots in KU’s dozen Big 12 games. … The Jayhawks were charged with 15 turnovers, a high number, yet 3 1/2 below their per-game average.
— Sports writer Chuck Woodling can be reached at 832-6348.