Kansas uses hot shooting night to cruise past Cincinnati for fourth straight victory

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas senior guard Holly Kersgieter shoots a 3 early in the first quarter against Cincinnati in Lawrence on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.

Coming off a weeklong break after a record-setting game against Houston, the Kansas women’s basketball team had more than enough power Wednesday night to pound out an emphatic 75-60 win over Cincinnati at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas (14-10, 7-6 Big 12) drew that power from the duo of Holly Kersgieter and Taiyanna Jackson, as Kersgieter dropped her second-highest point total of the season (23) and Jackson backed her up with an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double.

All in all, the Jayhawks had four players reach double figures in an aggressive, fast-paced matchup.

“Four in double figures and 17 assists, I think there were times tonight that we were clicking offensively and just making the right play,” said head coach Brandon Schneider. “Sometimes it’s just get the base hit, don’t try to hit home runs. Just make the easy play.”

Kansas started off quickly, foreshadowing the pace that they would rely on to stay in front for most of the game. Wyvette Mayberry opened up scoring on a fast break off a steal before S’Mya Nichols and Kersgieter knocked down a pair of threes to open up an 8-4 lead. A 6-2 run kept the Jayhawks in the driver’s seat as they had success getting to the foul line early. Kansas held onto its handy lead, which grew to 10 at one point in the quarter after Kersgieter hit another shot from behind the arc. But senior Jillian Hayes led the Bearcats with seven points in the first period, including a 3 in tight defense as the buzzer sounded to cut Kansas’ lead to six going into the second quarter.

After Cincinnati (12-11, 4-8) strung together a few scoring drives, Jackson recorded her first two blocks of the game in the same possession, allowing the Jayhawks to regain a more comfortable 28-20 lead. Then Kansas stalled, allowing a 7-1 Bearcat run to see its lead fall to 29-27. The Jayhawks quickly got into a groove after the run, using pace to their advantage and scoring on back-to-back plays with transition feeds to Jackson.

“Just because she was on the floor I think our post players were hesitant,” said Cincinnati head coach Katrina Merriweather. “A couple of times I’m yelling, ‘Just turn and shoot, turn and shoot because Jackson’s not on you,” but it’s almost as if they knew she was on the floor and she could be coming. So there was a lot of catching it in the paint and kicking it back out.”

Even though they gave up a quick 3 in the middle of those two possessions, the Jayhawks still regained their grip on the game, ending the half on a seven-point run capped by Kersgieter’s third 3-pointer of the night. KU used this first-half-ending momentum to grab a 40-30 lead after two quarters of action.

Jackson led Kansas with 14 points in the first half to go along with six rebounds and three blocks while Kersgieter was not far behind with 11 points of her own on 3-for-7 shooting. Ryan Cobbins played some effective defensive minutes, while Wyvette Mayberry had only four points at the break, but excelled in leading the team down the floor.

After ramping up the action to end the first half, Kansas kept the trend going, opening the third quarter on a 12-3 run thanks to a wide array of contributors. The Bearcats then put together their first, and only, string of points of the quarter, including a fast-break 3-pointer to make it 52-38. But the Jayhawks ended the quarter just like they started: with an eight-point run featuring contributions from a quartet of starters, plenty of floor movement and an aggressive pace that forced Cincinnati turnovers. Jackson and Kersgieter stood out in the third, as the duo led the game with 18 points each — combining for half of Kansas’ points.

“I don’t recall one of her 3s touching anything but the bottom of the net… and when you run her off the line she’s able to create for her team,” Merriweather said of Kersgieter. “She’s just a really good all-around player. To only have two assists and one turnover, you can’t force her to do anything that’s uncomfortable for her.”

“I think a lot of it is your body language. When someone can see that they rattle you, then that kind of gets to them,” Kersgieter said. “So there are times when I am so rattled, but you just can’t see it… but as long as you’re not expressing that and you’re doing the best outwardly to try and help yourself internally, I think that’s my recipe.”

Carrying a 22-point lead into the final period of action, the Jayhawks had all but sealed the deal against a disorganized Cincinnati. This led to some sloppy play from both sides in the fourth quarter, as the two teams combined for 17 fouls and eight turnovers, including a technical foul called on Cincinnati’s Aicha Dia after she and Jackson jawed at each other for a series of plays, leading to an aggressive interaction under the basket. The Bearcats then strung together an 8-2 run to get back to 67-51, where they were able to keep their deficit under 20 for the remaining three minutes. Cincinnati scored the last three points of the game on two sets of free throws, making the final 75-60.

Kersgieter’s 23-point night comes just a few games after a string of shooting struggles for the super-senior guard.

“It’s hard, but you’ve just got to do it. One game can’t play into the next, it’s just a mental thing,” she said. “I think the break helped, honestly, when we have a long weekend like that and I can kind of take my mind off of it. Then I come back and kind of have a fresh start, so it’s definitely a mental side of it that you have to overcome.”

As Kersgieter overcomes her own struggles, the Jayhawks have turned the corner on a once bleak-looking season, as they sit tied with Baylor for the sixth-best record in Big 12 Conference play after the Bears’ loss on the road Wednesday night.

“We have five games left, so it’s really almost a third still remaining to play,” Schneider said. “We’ve had to fight really hard to get on the right side of .500 in the league. I think you just have to continue to prepare one day at a time and know that we’ve got a really challenging opponent coming up in BYU on the road.”

With five games to go, Kansas has its eye on making a run to the NCAA Tournament, but first, it has the end of the regular season and the Big 12 tournament to focus on. The Jayhawks’ next box to check will come on the road against BYU on Saturday at 5 p.m.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas’ S’Mya Nichols plays tight defense against Cincinnati in Lawrence on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas senior Ryan Cobbins floats a jump shot over Cincinnati defenders Clarissa Craig and Jillian Hayes on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Lawrence.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas all-time blocked shots leader Taiyanna Jackson sets up a defensive possession on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Lawrence.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas senior guard Wyvette Mayberry goes up for a layup over Cincinnati’s Braylyn Milton on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Lawrence.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas’ Wyvette Mayberry drives the paint against Cincinnati on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas senior Ryan Cobbins shoots a layup against Cincinnati on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Lawrence.


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