It wasn’t easy for Kansas University forward Carolyn Davis to watch NCAA Tournament games from her apartment last year — especially after seeing a few teams the Jayhawks had beaten.
“As the years have gone on, it’s gotten more disappointing and more disappointing (to miss the NCAAs) with the more talent we’re gaining,” Davis said. “This year, we have all the talent. We have all the right pieces.”
It’s why the preseason All-Big 12 selection wasn’t shy about sharing her expectations for her team during KU women’s basketball media day on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
For Davis, it’s NCAA Tournament or bust for the Jayhawks this season.
“The only excuse is us,” Davis said. “If we don’t make it this year, we can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”
The Jayhawks have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
For one, KU returns 83.4 percent of its scoring from last season, when it finished 21-13 overall and eighth in the Big 12.
Not only that, the Jayhawks return the Big 12’s top field-goal percentage shooter (Davis), three-point shooter (Monica Engelman), and assist leader (Angel Goodrich).
KU coach Bonnie Henrickson— still searching for her first NCAA Tournament appearance in her eighth season — says a trip to the Big Dance would be the next step for a program that has come close in recent years.
“It’s been important, it will be important, it is always important. Absolutely,” Henrickson said. “It’s frustrating. That’s where we’re trying to get. That’s what we work every day (toward), and you take a couple nights off in this league, and you ruin all the work you put in.”
Much of Henrickson’s excitement with this year’s team comes from the belief that the Jayhawks have plenty of room to grow defensively.
Already, the coach has preached a few key statistics to her players in practice: KU was last in the Big 12 in defensive field-goal percentage (46.3 percent) and rebounding margin (-5.8 per game) during conference play last season.
The Jayhawks are slowly buying into the added emphasis on defense.
“I want them to fall in love and marry it, and they don’t want to add it on Facebook or follow it on Twitter, if you talk in their language,” Henrickson said with a smile. “We need to have wedding bells here on the defensive end.”
KU also should get immediate help from five newcomers —and especially freshman Natalie Knight.
The 5-foot-7 freshman guard from Olathe needed just 10 practices to earn a starting spot for the team’s exhibition trip to Italy in August.
Davis, meanwhile, will be KU’s unquestioned leader after averaging 19 points per game last season.
The Houston native said part of the reason she came to KU was to try to help turn around the program.
After watching the NCAA Tournament selection show last year, only to have KU left out once again, she’s ready for a new experience next March.
“I want to be cheering when they call our name,” Davis said. “That’s the plan.”