Fortunate to survive its double-overtime battle with Iowa State on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas University women’s basketball team heads to Missouri today for what could be the last time in a long while.
Because the Tigers are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next season, today’s 11:30 a.m. tipoff marks one of two remaining guaranteed games between the longtime rivals, and KU coach Bonnie Henrickson is well aware of the significance of her team’s final trip to Columbia, Mo.
“It matters because it could be tiddlywinks with Kansas and Missouri, and it’s a big deal,” said Henrickson, in her eighth season at KU. “It didn’t take me long to figure that out when I got here. It’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter who won the last one or if you won it or you lost it. It won’t matter. It’ll be a great game. And it’s a great opportunity for us to build on the momentum we got (against Iowa State). But we gotta play well.”
With this year’s KU team (13-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12), momentum seems to be one of the most important ingredients in the concoction that includes talent, experience and expectations.
After knocking off No. 23 Texas on the road to open Big 12 play on Jan. 4, the Jayhawks returned home riding high and dropped a heartbreaker to in-state rival Kansas State. Reeling from that loss, KU played three quarters of sluggish ball before rallying to knock off ISU in double-OT last Wednesday at home.
Now the focus shifts to starting today’s game against the Tigers the way they finished it against the Cyclones.
In Missouri, KU will face a team still searching for its first conference victory. Other than a six-point home loss to Texas Tech on Jan. 7, the Tigers’ other Big 12 losses certainly are excusable. In the opener on Jan. 4, they lost, 90-46, at Baylor. And earlier this week, MU fell, 72-46, to Kansas State in Manhattan.
MU is led by senior forward Christine Flores, who is averaging 20 points per game, including 13 per contest in Big 12 play, good for second in the league behind Baylor’s Britney Griner. Flores is bolstered by senior forward BreAnna Brock (15.4 ppg, 8.4 rebounds per game) and junior guard Sydney Crafton (6.8, 5.9).
“The Flores kid is having an unbelievable year,” Henrickson said. “The Brock kid inside has been good. They’ve got some young kids that have played really well.”
KU has won three of the last four meetings and four of the previous six and leads the all-time series, 43-37. The Tigers own the advantage at home, 18-15. Last season, the teams split, with each winning a game on its home court. After leading for much of the first half in Columbia a year ago, KU struggled before the break and allowed Mizzou to take a 30-27 lead into halftime. That run proved to be the catalyst for MU’s 66-52 run-away victory.
With memories of that loss fresh in their minds, Henrickson said KU would use the lesson as motivation for today’s game.
“We’ll go there and play well,” Henrickson said. “They made a run on us to go into the locker room last year at the half, and we kind of gave it away a little bit in spurts over there. So we gotta be good.”
One milestone to keep an eye on for Kansas involves leading scorer Carolyn Davis. Davis, who ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage (63), is just four rebounds away from 500 for her career. If the junior forward can reach the 500-rebound mark, she will become just the 14th player in KU women’s history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.
KANSAS (13-2, 2-1)
G - Angel Goodrich, 5-4, jr.
G - Natalie Knight, 5-7, fr.
G - Monica Engelman, 5-11, jr.
F - Carolyn Davis, 6-3, jr.
F - Aishah Sutherland, 6-2, sr.
MISSOURI (10-4, 0-3)
G Sydney Crafton, 5-10, jr.
G Kyley Simmons, 5-7, fr.
G Liene Priede, 5-10, jr.
F Christine Flores, 6-3, sr.
F BreAnna Brock, 6-2, sr.