Most freshmen don’t have the kind of advantage that Kansas University guard Keena Mays will take into Saturday’s game at Texas.
Although Mays, a 5-foot-7 guard from Arlington, Texas, has not played at UT as a member of the Jayhawks, she does have some experience playing on the Longhorns’ home floor.
During both her junior and senior years of high school, Mays’ team — Mansfield Timberview High — reached the state title game and finished the season playing on the burnt-orange floor in Austin. It won’t be exactly the same experience at 2 p.m. Saturday, but Mays said her past experience at the arena has helped her prepare, and she’s not intimidated by the challenge ahead.
“Not really,” she said. “I’ve played on the court before, and I know their team a little bit, so I’m just excited.”
So how did Mays and her team fare during the two state title games there?
“I did pretty good,” she said. “We lost my junior year, but we won last year.”
Winning will be the goal for Kansas Saturday, and, quite frankly, it’s something Bonnie Henrickson’s team has struggled with in recent weeks. KU’s 81-53 victory against Colorado on Wednesday night snapped a five-game losing skid and helped pull the Jayhawks to 15-7 overall and 2-6 in Big 12 play. The idea now, Henrickson said, is to start a streak that moves in the opposite direction.
“Like we’ve said all year, the most important game prior to this one was this one, and now the most important game of the year will be down in Austin,” Henrickson said after Wednesday’s victory. “We’ve gotta find a way to win to just feel better about ourselves.”
Texas enters Saturday’s game at 14-7 overall and 3-4 in the conference. UT owns an 8-3 advantage at home, but is just 1-2 in Big 12 games played in Austin.
Four players average in double figures, led by freshman Chassidy Fussell, who scores 17.8 points per game. Fussell also leads the Longhorns in three-point shooting, hitting 42 of 109 three-pointers (39 percent) on the season. She also rips down 5.3 rebounds per game.
Senior Kathleen Nash (15.1) and juniors Ashleigh Fontenette (12.4) and Yvonne Anderson (10.5) round out UT’s leading scorers.
The last time these two teams locked up, No. 14 Texas topped Kansas, 85-82, in double overtime in Lawrence. Then-freshman guard Monica Engelman (currently second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game) drained a game-tying three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining to send it to OT.
Engelman finished with 22 points and six assists, and forward Carolyn Davis (who leads KU with 17.6 ppg) led all scorers with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
While that one represented season highlights for both Jayhawks, the past is of little concern to them now. Their focus is on the future and finding a way to erase the memories of their recent five-game losing skid.
“It’s just like an open sore, and we finally got a little bit of a Band-Aid on it,” Henrickson said. “So now we need to get this sucker to heal.”