Kansas women on track for tourney appearance

Even without sophomore scoring sensation Keena Mays, who quit the team after her hottest stretch of games, and even without Asia Boyd, the highest-ranked recruit of the Bonnie Henrickson era, getting meaningful minutes, the Kansas University women’s basketball team has what it takes to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve read the “this is the year the drought ends” stuff before and have developed such an immunity to it you can’t even hear the wolf cry anymore, but this year really is different. Honest. No lie. I’m typing, so you already know my fingers aren’t crossed.

Sure, the Jayhawks didn’t look their best for stretches Wednesday night in scoring a 62-43 victory against a Texas Tech squad that was without its leading scorer and rebounder, Kierra Mallard. But they showed enough skill and savvy to make a ticket to the under-the-rim version of March Madness seem not only realistic, but probable.

Eighth-year coach Bonnie Henrickson has had talent in the past and, at times, even healthy talent. But she never has had three experienced players performing at such a high level at the same time.

The divergent talents of junior center Carolyn Davis, senior power forward Aishah Sutherland and junior point guard/magician Angel Goodrich complement each other so well that it’s difficult to see a scenario in which they won’t figure out a way to deliver Kansas an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2000, when Marian Washington’s team lost to Vanderbilt, 71-69, in Ruston, La.

It all starts with Goodrich and her healthy wheels. She knows how to get to the lane and needs such small openings to fire passes off the deck and on the money to cutters and high and soft to Davis. Goodrich is the pool player who shakes the opponent’s confidence by seeing shots nobody else sees, only it’s passes she sees. This year she sees shots for herself too and makes them often enough to force the defense to respect her as a scorer.

Davis catches everything and so routinely puts a soft shot off the glass for an easy bucket that when she missed shots early Wednesday it seemed as if it just wasn’t going to be her night. She only made it to the free-throw line for one shot, a miss, and she scored 34 points. Goodrich to Davis is the Jayhawks’ go-to play the way Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier was during the recent glory days of Kansas football. If that route is covered, Angel has a born knack for reading defenses and the minds of her receivers. She can sense when the defense is on its way to collapsing on Davis and feels that the Dezmon Briscoe of the team, Sutherland, is about to break free.

Defensively, Goodrich can apply pressure aggressively, knowing if she gets taken on the dribble Sutherland will be salivating in anticipation of emphatically swatting a shot.

In the past, Bonnie Ball had a tendency to come off too scripted, the barrage of X’s and O’s paralyzing the brain and handcuffing the creativity. This team has a different feel.

“I don’t think as much,” Sutherland said. “Your freshman year, you think the most. It gets easier sophomore year. You should be good junior year, but this year I don’t think. I just do.”

The perfect mindset for dancing.