Jackson’s career-high 29 points lead tournament-hopeful Jayhawks to key road win

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World

Kansas center Taiyanna Jackson makes a layup against Kansas State Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Allen Fieldhouse.

After a crucial win at home against Kansas State on Sunday, Kansas women’s basketball cruised to a 65-53 road victory in its first-ever trip to UCF on Wednesday.

The Jayhawks got out to a 15-point lead at halftime on the back of an eight-point run heading into the break. They were led by Taiyanna Jackson’s 29 points, which set a new career high for the fifth-year senior, and Zakiyah Franklin and S’Mya Nichols added on 16 and 14 points of their own, respectively. Jackson also grabbed 10 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass, to secure her 12th double-double of the season, along with four blocks.

While UCF struck first with a game-opening layup off the jump ball, Kansas forced the Knights into a three-minute scoring drought. At the same time, Jackson opened the game with seven straight points of her own, getting the Jayhawks an early lead. Franklin and Nichols got in the action at this point, earning Kansas its largest margin yet at 13-7. Nichols finished the quarter off with a pair of free throws to keep the lead at six points.

The Jayhawks once again relied on Jackson to get them started in the second, before Franklin and Nichols made a habit of driving straight through the Knights’ defense, trading off layups. Jackson got a rest for the majority of the period, with the Jayhawks trusting Danai Papadopoulou to step in in her place and offer some solid defense. Once Jackson returned with just over 4:30 left to play, she made a block that led to a UCF shot-clock violation and added on an immediate layup on the other end to get to 14 points on the night. The quarter ended once again with a pair of made free throws by Nichols — the Jayhawks had shut down the Knights for nearly half the quarter and had a commanding 35-21 lead going into the break.

Jackson led Kansas in scoring in the first half of its final road game, and Nichols and Franklin sat tied with eight points after twenty minutes of play.

The game’s rather slow pace continued after halftime, as Kansas came out with only one made field goal in the first seven minutes of the third. Luckily for the Jayhawks, UCF’s foul trouble allowed them a good number of free-throw attempts to keep some scoring alive, and they held onto a 40-27 lead halfway through the quarter off Jackson’s fifth made free throw of the night. Kansas’ solid defensive performance — more common of late — persisted, and the Jayhawks held onto a comfortable double-digit lead for the entire quarter. Then the leading scorers got going again, as a layup by Jackson and a 3-pointer from Nichols put them up 47-32.

Both offenses stepped up in the final period. UCF’s Kaitlin Peterson scored seven of her 13 total points in the fourth quarter alone, Jackson scored eight and Franklin added on six points to seal the Jayhawks’ victory.

While the final 65-53 margin was more than comfortable for Kansas, the Knights got the lead down to single digits multiple times throughout the period, most notably when they made it 56-47 with just under three minutes to play. Two quick layups by Jackson and Nichols in succession got the Jayhawks back ahead by 14 thanks to an impressive drive by Nichols and a free throw to complete the three-point play.

Kansas’ top three scorers — Jackson, Nichols and Franklin — once again proved vital in a road matchup in the Jayhawks’ final sprint of the season, while KU saw no scoring production from its rarely used bench. With Wyvette Mayberry out, Ryan Cobbins stepped into the starting lineup, scoring only three points but grabbing six key rebounds and a steal.

Up next to finish off the Jayhawks’ roller coaster of a regular season is senior night for much of Kansas’ roster in a matchup with Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“(A win) is very important,” Jackson said on the ESPN+ broadcast following her performance in Orlando. “First of all, we need this win so we can get into the tournament and get a better seeding and also, it’s senior night, so you know … We just got to go in there and play with the same momentum we’ve been having for a couple of games and just not fragment as a team when Oklahoma gets their little runs going. We just have to stay focused and stay together as a team.”

She continued, reflecting on the Jayhawks’ recent success: “We showed that we can sit down and play defense and play hard and as a team no matter what even with stuff not going right. We didn’t start the season off great, but at the end, we’re 6-1 (in February) and that’s all that really matters.”


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