Let’s talk about some positives for Kansas University’s women’s basketball team. And why not?
The Jayhawks may not be on the national radar screen yet, but at least they aren’t on sonar.
For starters, the Jayhawks have 18 victories. That’s one more than any of coach Bonnie Henrickson’s previous four teams had. KU won six conference games and tied for seventh place. Again, that’s one more than Henrickson had since taking over prior to the 2004-2005 season.
KU finished strong, winning five of its last seven, including a surprising 69-45 thumping of Baylor — the Bears went on to win the league tourney — and a 67-52 decision at Oklahoma State, KU’s first conference road victory in two years.
Danielle McCray blossomed. McCray, a 5-foot-11 junior, became only the fourth KU player to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors by becoming a consistent double-double-type player.
Freshman Aishah Sutherland, banished to the bench early in the season, emerged as a solid reserve down the stretch when Henrickson realized that sheer athleticism is an acceptable antidote for inexperience.
In the preseason, conference coaches predicted Kansas would finish ninth in the league standings, a guess based mostly on the fact KU had practically everyone back from a team that had tied for 10th the year before.
In a sense, the league coaches had bumped KU up a notch based on the experience factor. At the same time, the coaches no doubt felt freshman point guard Angel Goodrich would make an impact, although obviously not a major one.
Then Goodrich went down in preseason due to a damaged ACL, and Kansas was indeed the same team it was the year before. And still is with two exceptions.
One, ongoing offensive inadequacies forced Henrickson to take the shackles off McCray. Never very good as a one-on-one player during her first two seasons, McCray improved markedly in that aspect.
Henrickson said McCray learned to create shots by improving her footwork. Well, whatever works. McCray’s handwork, meanwhile, remained pretty darned good.
And two, senior Ivana Catic provided stability at point guard at a time when the Jayhawks were turning the ball over with alarming regularity.
Catic is something like chicken soup for a cold. She may not be doing much to improve the offense, but she isn’t doing anything to harm it, either. Still, there are times when you want to shout: “Shoot the darned ball, Ivana.”
KU would be stronger in the postseason, too, if Nicollette Smith could generate some offense inside the three-point line. Smith remains a solid defender, but even her three-point shooting has tailed off.
Basically, this KU women’s team is the antithesis of the KU men’s team. Whereas Bill Self’s club is built around a Mr. Inside (Cole Aldrich) and Mr. Outside (Sherron Collins), Henrickson relies on a Ms. Wing (McCray) and a Ms. Wing II (Sade Morris).
In Henrickson’s four years, the Jayhawks have taken baby steps forward and backward. A giant step may not be on the horizon, but a grown-up step isn’t too much to expect next year.