While dominating her opponents earlier this season, Kansas University women’s basketball forward Carolyn Davis was asked how eager she was to be tested by the taller, more physical forwards in the Big 12, like, say, Baylor’s Brittney Griner.
Davis said she welcomed it at the time, and heading into the matchup with Griner and No. 1 Baylor — at 7 tonight in Allen Fieldhouse — she wasn’t about to shy away from the question.
“I like the challenge,” said Davis, who, like Griner, played high school basketball in Houston. “I don’t want to back down from it just because she’s 6-foot-8. I think it’ll be fun how we can play against her and what I do against her.”
This is the first time the KU women have faced a No. 1 team in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have played the top-ranked team on the road once and four times at neutral sites.
The Bears (16-1, 3-0) and their star sophomore will provide a big test for Davis and the Jayhawks. Griner, 6-foot-8, has an 88-inch wingspan.
“She’s just a really special combination of size, length, and agility,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said of Griner, who averages 22 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Last season as a freshman, Griner nearly led the Bears to their second national championship before falling to UConn in the Final Four — the only team they’ve lost to this season — and garnered national attention along the way thanks to her versatile play, dunking prowess and noted scuffle with Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle.
Like Griner, Davis has put up impressive numbers to begin her sophomore season: 19.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and a 67.5 field goal percentage, good for tops in the conference and second-best in the nation.
And though the 6-foot-3 Davis has a tough assignment on defense, it will be just as tough to find ways to score over Griner, who leads the Big 12 in blocked shots at 4.9 per game.
“The one thing with her is she doesn’t jump a lot, so I don’t know about (using pump fakes),” said Davis, who led KU with 15 points in a setback to Baylor last year in Waco.
“But I think, shooting around her, trying to get around her, using my quickness laterally to get around her will be a good thing.”
The Bears are second in the Big 12 in scoring (84.2) thanks to a league-high .478 field goal percentage mark. Much of that is courtesy of Griner, who can command a double-team in the post, but also can score with a strong mid-range game that features a deadly, fade away jump shot.
“You can’t sit and give her the same look the whole game,” Henrickson said. “So we’re going to have to mix it up a bit and be opportunistic when we can.”
Baylor has made 38 percent of its threes, led by Odyessy Sims (13.4 ppg., 48-percent from three) and Melissa Jones (9.6 ppg., 42-percent from three).
“There’s a little bit of pick your poison,” Henrickson said. “But when (Griner) misses it, we’ve got to get a rebound.”
The Bears also lead the conference in scoring defense (51.1) behind a .309 opposing shooting percentage — good for an average scoring margin of +33.1 points.
The Jayhawks have been simulating Griner’s shot-blocking ability (she had NCAA single-season record with 223 blocks last season; 83 this year) in practice by having coaches hold up big red pads to contest shots. They also benefit from having a 6-foot-7 player on the scout team.
“We’re going to attack her,” Henrickson said. “We can’t be afraid of her. We don’t need our little point guards to attack her. We don’t need to do that.”
That means plenty of Davis, and certainly chances for Aishah Sutherland and Krysten Boogaard as well.
When Davis has gotten touches, she’s scored. Simple as that. But in games against Texas Tech and Colorado, Davis got lost too often in the middle of zone defenses, and in turn took only five and three shots, respectively.
“If we can find (Davis) 10 times, we can’t miss her more than once,” Henrickson said. “We’ve missed her kind of looking other places, but it’s a point of emphasis. And these kids understand that we’ve got to go inside-outside.”
Like Baylor's backcourt, the Jayhawk guards will likely play big roles, too.
“Against them, and anybody who plays them and beats them has got to be able to knock down some shots from the perimeter,” Henrickson said.
Note: Led by 35-point from Danielle McCray, KU knocked off then-No.5 Baylor in 2009 in Allen Fieldhouse. Henrickson downplayed any significance.
“The players are different, everybody’s different,” Henrickson said with a laugh. “(Griner’s) not there. The kid (McCray) that went for 35 for us isn’t here.”