KU women’s basketball looking to build off first winning season under Brandon Schneider

photo by: Carter Gaskins

In this file photo, KU center Bailey Helgren (35) celebrates with her teammate Zakiyah Franklin (15) following a bucket by the guard. KU defeated Indiana State 84-72 on Thursday, Nov. 7.

With a talented group of newcomers and four veteran double-digit scorers, it’s easy to see why Kansas women’s basketball coach Brandon Schneider is optimistic about his squad’s chances this year.

The KU women tip off their season today, and four of the five players who averaged in double figures in 2019-20 — Aniya Thomas, Zakiyah Franklin, Tina Stephens and Holly Kersgieter — will be back in action, too. They were an integral part of KU’s 15-14 season, which was the team’s first winning season in five years under Schneider.

Before the campaign abruptly ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jayhawks had won three of their final five Big 12 games to finish the year with a 4-14 clip in league action.

“We were really proud of how we were playing down the stretch heading into the Big 12 tournament,” Schneider said during KU’s season preview segment on Big 12 Now, which aired on ESPN+ last Friday. “We felt like we were a postseason team a year ago prior to COVID.”

Kansas will host Northern Colorado at 6 p.m. today at Allen Fieldhouse. And the key for the Jayhawks will be picking up where they left off after an eight-month hiatus.

While Schneider might have liked how his team was rounding into form back in March, he also identified areas of improvement for the Jayhawks: finishing at the rim and rebounding.

According to Her Hoop Stats, KU ranked 86th in the nation with a 46.1% clip on 2-point shots. KU ranked 114th in total rebounding with an average of 38.5 rebounds per contest.

“In the games we came up short a year ago, that was a glaring weakness for us,” Schneider said. “We feel like with the improvement our current players have made, and some additions that we are really excited about, those are areas that we can definitely see some progress.”

Freshman Ioanna Chatzileonti is perhaps the biggest reason to believe the Jayhawks could improve in those two areas of the game. Chatzileonti, a 6-foot-2 forward from Athens, Greece, was the youngest member of the Greek national team.She was a bronze medalist with the team in 2019, leading in rebounding and coming in second on the team in scoring.

During Late Night in the Phog, Chatzileonti showed her versatility on one of the first plays of the scrimmage. She grabbed the ball on a turnover, brought it down the court and fired up a floater on the other end.

While on the broadcast with play-by-play announcer Jimmy Chavez, Schneider mentioned how rare it is for him to have a post of Chatzileonti’s caliber.

“Ioanna is a player that we are really, really excited about,” Schneider told Chavez. “We feel like we can run a lot of offense through her. We haven’t had that type of point production from our 5-spot. She’s going to allow us to run a lot of offense through the post.”

In addition, KU brings back plenty of production from last year’s squad. Thomas (12.6 points per game), Franklin (12.1 ppg), Stephens (10.2 ppg) and Kersgieter (10.1 ppg) are all back and looking to build off last season.

Thomas, a 5-foot-7 junior guard from Duncanville, Texas, started in 28 of KU’s 29 contests last season. She led the Jayhawks in scoring on nine occasions. Of her 21 double-digit scoring outputs, eight of them occurred in the final nine outings.

Franklin, a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Lakeland, Fla., will look to build on an impressive rookie campaign. She started in all 29 games and was the third Jayhawk to be named to the Big 12 All-Freshman team.

“I think (she) had an outstanding freshman season,” Schneider said on Big 12 Now. “In terms of building on it, she’s really worked hard in the offseason and added some things to her game.”

Schneider is also excited about Kersgieter, who displayed her shooting ability during her first collegiate season. As a freshman from Sand Springs, Okla., Kersgieter shot 40.5% from long range. It was a single-season mark that ranked fourth in the all-time record book.

Kersgieter scored a career-high 24 points in her collegiate debut against Indiana State, but her encore campaign figures to be even better.

“I think she’s probably our most improved player over the summer months,” Schneider told Chavez on the Late Night broadcast. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she leads our team in scoring.”

KU will probably be forced to lean on its returners early on, as this year’s schedule is expected to be more difficult than usual out of the gate.

Not only do the Jayhawks not get any exhibition games, but they will open Big 12 play earlier than usual with a home matchup against Oklahoma on Dec. 10. KU will face Northern Colorado, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 29), Mississippi (Dec. 3) and Oral Roberts (Dec. 6) before that meeting with OU.

“We are fortunate that we are going to be able to play a few nonconference games prior to Big 12 play,” Schneider told Chavez. “Practices are going to be really, really important. We are without exhibition games or scrimmages, so we have to make the most of every day.”

No fans will be in attendance for KU’s season opener, but the game will be broadcast on ESPN+ through Big 12 Now.

2020-21 KU women’s schedule

Nov. 25 – vs. Northern Colorado

Nov. 29 – vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Dec. 3 – at Ole Miss

Dec. 6 – vs. Oral Roberts

Dec. 10 – vs. Oklahoma

Dec. 14 – vs. UT-Rio Grande Valley

Dec. 17 – at Texas

Dec. 21 – vs. North Dakota State

Dec. 29 – vs. New Mexico State

Jan. 2 – vs. West Virginia

Jan. 6 – at Iowa State

Jan. 9 – at Oklahoma State

Jan. 13 – vs. Baylor

Jan. 17 – at TCU

Jan. 20 – vs. Texas Tech

Jan. 23 – vs. Kansas State

Jan. 27 – at Oklahoma

Jan. 30 – vs. Oklahoma State

Feb. 3 – at Baylor

Feb. 6 – vs. TCU

Feb. 10 – at West Virginia

Feb. 13 – at Kansas State

Feb. 17 – vs. Iowa State

Feb. 20 – at Texas Tech

Feb. 24 – vs. Texas


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