Bonnie Henrickson still hasn’t coached the Kansas University women’s basketball team into the NCAA Tournament, but her bunch has managed to pull off a feat thought to be far more improbable. It has converted me from an unapologetic basher of women’s basketball to someone looking forward to next season.
All the elements — from a senior superstar to a perfect complementary star riding shotgun to a talented freshman running the point to a freakishly athletic sophomore still learning the game — are in place to make Henrickson’s sixth KU team a must-watch.
To fully appreciate how far expectations have soared in one year, consider how much pressure was on incoming freshman Angel Goodrich a year ago and how little heat is on her now, when she still is an incoming freshman, thanks to a dreaded ACL injury that prevented her from playing.
Impatient fans of Jayhawks women’s basketball a year ago counted on Goodrich becoming the savior the program so desperately needed. Now, no savior is needed. Danielle McCray took care of that, leading the Jayhawks all the way to the title game of the WNIT played in front of an announced crowd of 16,113. KU lost, 75-71, but Danielle and the Miracles won a ton of respect and new fans along the way.
Four of the five starters return, and the most heralded newcomer, Goodrich, happens to play the vacated position of point guard. Unless everybody is wrong about Goodrich, she’ll instantly upgrade the position because she’s a terrific passer, pushes the pace in a way that leads to easy baskets in transition and presents enough of a threat as a scorer that doubling McCray every time she gets the ball on the wing won’t be as easy for opponents to do.
Goodrich will make the other four players on the floor with her better by knowing how to draw the defense at just the right time to deliver an on-target pass to a scoring threat, and she might do her best work in transition.
This roster has the two most important elements necessary for a successful fast-break team. First, Goodrich gives KU a point guard who can take care of the basketball at high speeds and set up teammates for easy buckets. Next, having big players who can outrun their opponents leads not only to them scoring easy baskets, but to preventing the other teams from scoring them. When the bigs get back on defense to protect the interior, the guards don’t have to leave the perimeter unguarded in transition. Not many teams have post players who can sprint with center Krysten Boogaard and power forward Aishah Sutherland.
As solid as the Jayhawks shape up down low and at the point, it’s on the wings where they really stand out. McCray is excelling for Team USA in the World University games. Playing with and against such elite talent in practice and games can only help her game. Meanwhile, Sade Morris brings terrific defense and reliable scoring.
Veteran forward Nicollette Smith and the best of three frontcourt recruits (Annette Davis, Carolyn Davis, Tania Jackson) supply depth up front. In the backcourt, hard-driving LaChelda Jacobs, scrappy Kelly Kohn and junior-college transfer Rhea Codio give Henrickson options.