Manhattan — It wasn’t too terribly long ago that a meeting between the Kansas University and Kansas State women’s basketball teams was not so much a basketball game as a public display of dominance.
In a four-year span between 2003 and 2006, K-State went 8-0 against its neighbor to the east, a span in which the Wildcats won by an average of more than 25 points per contest and provided Kansas with some of the program’s most lopsided losses of the decade.
Entering the teams’ 6 p.m. matchup today in Bramlage Coliseum, however, the Jayhawks can take solace in the fact that the talent gap, at least for the time being, has diminished greatly.
In the past two seasons, KSU’s average margin of victory has shrunk considerably — to just over three points — and two season ago, Kansas managed to earn its first victory in the series since 2001, topping the Wildcats, 82-74, in Lawrence.
It hasn’t been a total shift in power, KU coach Bonnie Henrickson acknowledges, but based on the could-have-gone-either-way box scores, not too bad, either.
“Other than the year we got wickered ... it’s been a one possession game,” said Henrickson, whose team enters the conference portion of its schedule 11-2 for the second straight season. “And we’ve walked out of there with 20 turnovers, 21 turnovers, missed layups, missed free throws.”
The reality, Henrickson said, is that while her players have the utmost respect for Kansas State (13-0), one of just five undefeated teams in the country, they are also confident that consistent execution can put them in position to earn a significant confidence boost heading into what likely will prove to be a grueling Big 12 schedule.
“It’s something that would be a signature win for us, if we can go on the road and get a win,” said Kansas junior guard/forward Danielle McCray, who leads the team with 18.9 points per game. “We just need to come out and focus and be prepared and do the things that we’re capable of doing, and I think we can come out on the right end of things.”
To do that, they likely will have to limit the effectiveness of KSU senior guard Shalee Lehning, a Wooden Award candidate who leads the nation in assists per game (9.2) and has recorded two triple-doubles so far this season.
They’ll also have to shore up a few problem areas they encountered during their 13-game nonconference schedule. Consistency, for one. Turnovers for another.
At times this season, the Jayhawks have struggled to maintain possession, even against sub-par competition. During one forgettable stretch early on, KU committed at least 21 turnovers in three consecutive games, including a season-worst 28 in a 67-57 loss to Marquette.
“Those are crucial,” sophomore center Krysten Boogaard said. “Especially during the Big 12 (season), because they’re going to take those turnovers and turn them into points — whereas some of the teams that we may have played haven’t really converted all of them.”
Players said following the team’s 80-60 victory over Fairfield on Wednesday that they were more comfortable with where they are at this point in the season than they were a year ago, and — assuming they can correct the aforementioned issues — are confident they have the foundation necessary to compete nightly in one of the nation’s top conferences.
“Right now, we’re there,” said McCray. “We’ve just got to tune some things up. And that’s easy to do in practice, but we’ve just got to come prepared and focus on that concentration level, as well.”