KU women’s basketball opens season at home Wednesday

Kansas women’s head coach Brandon Schneider addresses the crowd during Late Night in the Phog on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

The reigning Women’s National Invitation Tournament champions return to the court Wednesday with their sights set on even greater success this year.

The Kansas women’s basketball team, led by returning starters Zakiyah Franklin, Taiyanna Jackson, Holly Kersgieter and Wyvette Mayberry and incoming five-star freshman S’Mya Nichols, will host Northwestern State in the season opener Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.

Head coach Brandon Schneider said Tuesday he wants his team to cultivate “an identity of being really tough and connected on both ends of the floor.”

They have worked on fostering that connection in the offseason, linking the core returnees with players like Nichols, fellow freshman Laia Conesa (who isn’t healthy and will miss Wednesday’s game), and transfers Ryan Cobbins and Skyler Gill.

Many of the Jayhawks have earned preseason accolades, none greater than the Naismith Women’s Player of the Year watch list nod for Jackson, an elite rebounder and shotblocker who stands 6-foot-6.

“We feel like we have a really balanced team,” Schneider said, “but we’re fortunate to probably have one of the premier centers in the country.”

While the Jayhawks have encountered other high-level teams in closed settings — Creighton in Lawrence and former Schneider assistant Jory Collins’ North Dakota State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — they will be put to the test before the public for the first time against Northwestern State, a Division I team hailing from Natchitoches, Louisiana. This is the first time the two teams have played since they split a pair of meetings in the 1980s.

The Lady Demons, who compete in the Southland Conference, are in their fourth year under head coach Anna Nimz, a Topeka native and former Pittsburg State basketball standout. They were picked to finish seventh of 10 teams in the league. They lost all-conference guard Candice Parramore in the offseason but return some experienced starters in LSU transfer shooter Sharna Ayres, guard Jiselle Woodson and forward Jasmin Dixon.

“They have a lot of new pieces, as do a lot of programs, with kind of the transfer portal era,” Schneider said. “Difficult to scout here early in the year. We’re just going to kind of focus on ourselves.”

Unlike KU, Northwestern State has already played a game this season, having lost 90-42 at Nebraska, a team with which the Jayhawks split a pair of meetings — a regular-season triple-overtime loss followed by a Women’s National Invitation Tournament win — last year. The Lady Demons were outscored 46-12 in the first half. Nebraska didn’t shoot especially well overall but scored the first 16 points of the game, forced 21 turnovers, went to the line 33 times and outrebounded Northwestern State 51-33.

Senior guard Karmelah Dean, who missed most of last season due to injury, led the Lady Demons with 13 points off the bench as Ayres added 11 and seven rebounds.

Schneider said that facing a team that has already played one game doesn’t change the dynamic of Wednesday’s matchup much, except that “we maybe have a little more information on them than they do us.”

KU does not play another game at home for more than three weeks (Nov. 30 against Southeastern Louisiana). It goes on the road to Penn State on Monday.


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