KU women’s basketball team unselfish, thriving

Kansas University women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson is no different from any other coach in America.

Before the start of each season, the Jayhawks outline team goals and, before the start of each game, Henrickson and her squad map out a few goals for the upcoming 40 minutes.

Depending on the opponent — or the outlook for the season — the objectives can change quite a bit. But there’s one goal that Henrickson urges the Jayhawks to reach every time they play. And, believe it or not, it involves being scolded by the refs.

“We have a game goal to make the officials yell at us to sit down twice a game,” Henrickson said. “And we get that in the first five or six minutes. In fact, we’ve had ’em coming at us in a timeout, saying, ‘Hey, you gotta get ’em to sit down.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you know, our goal is…’ and they laugh at me. But that’s good. You can’t fake that. They are genuinely excited about each other’s success.”

Undisciplined? Nope. Unselfish would be a better word.

See, Henrickson’s squad, which has raced out to an 8-0 start and will play at 6 tonight at Michigan, doesn’t worry about who shoots when or who’s scoring what. Of the nine healthy players in KU’s rotation, one’s a senior, one’s a junior, two are sophomores, one’s a red-shirt freshman and four are true freshmen.

Unselfish basketball can be common on a team full of upperclassmen, but finding it on a squad with such an even blend of youth and experience is rare.

Henrickson hasn’t just found it; her team is thriving because of it.

“(It’s great) how unselfish we are,” Henrickson said. “But there’s more to it than that. They care about each other, they take care of each other, they have each other’s back and that’s obvious when you watch us play.”

Through the first eight games of the season, five different players have led the Jayhawks in scoring. Super sophomore Carolyn Davis (19 points per game) has been KU’s most reliable offensive weapon, but even she has been more than happy to step aside when one of her teammates has had the hot hand or foul trouble and the pace of play have made it necessary.

What’s more, this team’s assist numbers are sensational, especially this early in the season. KU averages 18 a game and has filled up the box score with three or more players dishing two or more assists six times. That includes two games when five Jayhawks had two or more assists, and one, last week’s record-setting 126-63 victory against Maine, when six players did it. In that one, KU finished with a school-record-tying 32 assists.

“We have really good team chemistry,” freshman forward Brooke Jelniker said. “Everybody just wants everyone else to be successful.”

So far so good there.

These types of performances — against non-conference opponents in November and December — won’t be worth much when the Big 12 season arrives. But the idea here is that operating this way now will make this style of play second-nature then. If that goal is reached, maybe the Jayhawks will finish the season they way they’ve started it.