Off to a 4-1 start in Big 12 Conference play — and a 15-2 record overall, the best start since the 1993-94 season — the Kansas University women’s basketball team seems ready for a statement game.
As luck would have it, next up on the Jayhawks’ schedule is a date with the defending national champion Texas A&M Aggies, who enter tonight’s 7 p.m. tip-off at Allen Fieldhouse ranked No. 14 in the country with a 12-4 overall record and a 3-2 mark in the Big 12.
Tonight’s match-up is not a make-or-break game for head coach Bonnie Henrickson’s team. For starters, it still is early in the season. In addition, the Jayhawks have won three straight conference road contests and come into the game feeling pretty good about their recent five-game stretch.
“I think from a confidence standpoint and a momentum standpoint, it’s been big for us to string a couple together and get a few on the road,” Henrickson said.
But don’t think for a second that KU’s confidence has gotten in the way of a clear understanding of what it’s going to take to be successful against an ultra-talented A&M squad.
“I think we have great respect for them,” Henrickson said. “I would say that’s the first word out of all of our mouths; we have great respect for who they are, what they’ve done, what they did last year and what they’re doing this year.”
After losing to Texas on Jan. 11, Texas A&M won back-to-back games against Iowa State and Missouri last week to climb above .500 in conference play. Three of A&M’s four losses have come on the road, including a setback against Kansas State in Manhattan in the conference opener.
Henrickson said there were some critical elements of the game plan to take care of, if KU hopes to hand A&M road loss No. 4.
“From an offensive standpoint, you’ve gotta take care of the ball,” she said. “Your offense can’t become their offense. A&M presents different challenges in length and speed and athleticism and pressure and pressing and all of that is different than what we’ve seen.”
However, it’s not just A&M’s stellar transition play that concerns KU’s head coach. In fact, it seems as if the Aggies may be more dangerous in the halfcourt.
“They’re an absolute offensive rebounding machine,” Henrickson said.
Through 16 games this season, A&M has averaged a Big 12-best 18.7 offensive rebounds per contest. Kelsey Bone (7.3) and Adaora Elonu (7.1) lead the Aggies’ rebounding attack, but, most nights, all five players on the floor contribute to controlling the glass.
Henrickson said that general statistics indicate that the first shot of a possession goes in about 30 percent of the time. After that, the percentages skyrocket, with second-shot opportunities being converted 60 percent of the time and third-shot chances going in 80 percent of the time.
“Those numbers are for everybody,” Henrickson said. “But they’re more magnified with A&M because of how many times they go get two and three (shots per possession). You’ve gotta limit those 60 and 80 percent shots for them.”
KU catches a tough rebounding team at a good time, considering what went down the last time the Jayhawks played. Wednesday night, during a 65-60 victory at Oklahoma State, senior Aishah Sutherland ripped down 22 rebounds, marking the first time since 1981 that a KU player eclipsed the 20-rebound mark in a game. That same night, junior forward Carolyn Davis, who led all scorers with 18 points, pulled down four boards and topped the 500-rebound mark for her career.
Those milestones, along with their three-game road winning streak, have the Jayhawks as energized and confident as they’ve been all season.
“They’re excited,” Henrickson said. “And that’s one of the many wonderful things about this league; you get opportunities almost every night to get quality wins. Not every league has that.”