When Kansas University standout Danielle McCray suffered a season-ending ACL injury last week, head coach Bonnie Henrickson made a point of telling replacement Monica Engelman that she didn’t have to pick up all the slack herself.
Trouble was, the freshman from San Antonio, Texas, didn’t really listen.
In her first career start, a 70-60 Jayhawks victory over Kansas State on Sunday, Engelman turned in a breakout performance, finishing with a team-high 16 points and five assists (without a turnover) and adding four rebounds while playing about as efficiently as her coach could have hoped.
“I think she recognizes that she’s got really big shoes to fill, but I think she also recognizes there isn’t anyone in this program that expects it all to be on her,” Henrickson said Tuesday. “She recognizes she’s got other people trying to stick their feet in there with her. She doesn’t try to do too much — it’s not like she’s trying to be Danielle McCray every possession. She’s trying to share the ball and let other kids play and do what she’s capable of.”
How well Engelman is able to fill those shoes today against No. 3 Nebraska could determine whether Kansas (14-7, 4-4 in the Big 12) will be able to hang with a Huskers team that has proven to be the surprise of the women’s college basketball season.
Even under ideal conditions, tonight’s 7 p.m. matchup represented a significant challenge for the Jayhawks, who are 11-1 at Allen Fieldhouse this season and have won their past three games after dropping four of five to start the conference season.
But with arguably the team’s top two players — McCray and freshman point guard Angel Goodrich — lost to season-ending injuries, the likelihood of an upset decreased significantly.
With a 21-0 record (8-0 in the Big 12), Nebraska doesn’t appear to have a major discernible weakness. Four players are averaging double-figures in scoring. Senior all-American candidate Kelsey Griffin has tallied 19.4 points and a conference-best 9.9 rebounds per game, and, in addition to good deal of depth and quickness, the Huskers have showed an ability to make key plays down the stretch.
“They’re a team that finishes,” Henrickson said. “When they need a big stop, they get it. When they need a big bucket, they get it. When they need a big rebound, they get it.”
Which means the Jayhawks will need near-perfect performances from just about everyone on their roster.
And if that includes another career effort from Engelman, well, Henrickson won’t be complaining.
“I’ve been telling her (this season), ‘Hey, you’re (Danielle) next year; you’re going to be the one in that spot as far as being in that role, in those sets, getting primary looks in a handful of sets that we run for (Danielle),’” Henrickson said.
“Well, next year is now for her.”