The non-conference schedule did Kansas University’s women’s basketball team a holiday favor by getting the players and coaches out of town Wednesday just in time to escape the ice and snow of Lawrence for the California sunshine. But the Jayhawks have too serious a challenge in front of them to bask in the Golden State’s warmth.
No. 19 KU (9-1) will face its first ranked opponent of the season, No. 8 California (8-1), tonight — tipoff at 9 p.m., Central time — at Walter A. Haas Jr. Pavilion, in Berkeley, Calif.
Now in her ninth season coaching at Kansas, Bonnie Henrickson’s KU teams have a 2-18 record against top-10 opponents. The last such win came in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, against Delaware. The other came against Baylor in 2009. KU is 8-49 against top-25 teams in Henrickson’s tenure.
The coach has seen the anticipation for the Cal game in her players’ bounce at practices this week, and she hopes their run to the Sweet 16 last season will serve as a positive example heading into a major road test.
“We should go with some confidence, but certainly a tremendous amount of respect for what you have to do as a player individually to give our team a chance to be successful,” Henrickson said.
The players first began hearing about Cal’s length and athletic ability after the Jayhawks beat Prairie View A&M on Sunday, and the Bears’ front court has been a popular topic of discussion since.
Cal junior forward Gennifer Brandon (6-foot-2) averages a double-double, with 13.7 points and 11 rebounds, senior center Talia Caldwell (6-3) produces 10.2 points and 6.4 boards and sophomore Reshanda Gray (6-3) contributes 10 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench, in less than 20 minutes a game.
Henrickson said Cal’s bigs feast on the glass, and 18.1 of the team’s 45.1 rebounds a game come on offense, allowing the Bears to average 16 second-chance points.
“I don’t know how many years it’s been since we played somebody who rebounds the ball that well,” Henrickson said of the Bears, whose only loss this season came at No. 4 Duke.
KU’s coach often has admonished the Jayhawks this season to “find some comfort in chaos.” Translation: Kansas needs to thrive when its opponent applies defensive pressure. Henrickson said the Jayhawks need senior point guard Angel Goodrich (12.6 points, 6.6 assists) controlling the game’s flow when Cal (11.2 steals) tries to disrupt things with its pestering defense.
“It’s the closest thing, clearly, to a Big 12 game that we’ve had,” Henrickson said.
It comes at a good time, too. Goodrich said Cal, KU’s final non-conference opponent, will prepare the Jayhawks for Big 12 play, which begins in January.
“We want to finish off strong,” the senior said.
Plus, beating a highly-ranked team would help Kansas earn a better seed for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. But Henrickson doesn’t want players thinking about that.
“If you focus on the process, the result will take care of itself,” the coach said. “If we’re just jacked up about playing — ‘Hey, wouldn’t that be a great win?’ — our minds aren’t ready to do the job you have to do.”
KU is 1-1 on the road this season, with a win at Creighton and a loss at Arkansas. The Jayhawks last faced Cal in 2007, at Berkeley, and the Bears prevailed, 74-41. Cal is 3-1 all-time versus Kansas.
Engelman closing in on 1,000: KU senior shooting guard Monica Engelman (7.3 points this season) needs just 10 points to become the 25th player in Kansas history to score 1,000 in a career. She scored 11 in her last game and 10 in the outing before that.