KU women knock off conference champion Oklahoma 83-74 in regular-season finale

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas' Holly Kersgieter (13) shoots a one-handed leaning shot over Oklahoma's Kiersten Johnson (5) Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse.

After all but clinching a spot in the NCAA Tournament with back-to-back wins last week, the Kansas women’s basketball team still had more to fight for entering a senior night that honored five players — four of whom are starters.

“They not only picked us and chose Kansas when the program was not where we wanted it to be, but they also stuck with us… when that is not a popular thing to do (in today’s culture),” said head coach Brandon Schneider.

Led by many of those veteran players — and one breakout freshman in S’Mya Nichols — Kansas began its final home matchup against regular-season Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma on Saturday night in dominant fashion and sent the Sooners packing with a convincing nine-point victory, winning 83-74.

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas’ S’Mya Nichols pushes the ball up the court against Oklahoma Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse.

After starting a disappointing 0-3 in the Big 12, Kansas bounced back to go 7-1 in its last eight games, concluding with a victory over the top team in the conference.

The Jayhawks were led on Saturday by Nichols, who recorded a new career high of 29 points.

“I feel like we just fouled her way too much,” said Oklahoma head coach Jennie Baranczyk on their approach to defending Nichols. “And though she is a great player, and she can find her way in there, and obviously we know that as well as anybody, but I don’t know if we did a great job of team defense today. Because she’s such a great one-on-one player, and we needed to make it a little bit harder.”

Senior Holly Kersgieter also grabbed a new season-high 26 points, which was good for second-most in her college career.

“All I was thinking about was just senior night and it being my last time in here,” she said. “Honestly, the win was just the icing on top. It was hard to put that first after the game.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

From left, Kansas seniors Zakiyah Franklin (15), Taiyanna Jackson (1), freshman S’Mya Nichols (12), and seniors Holly Kersgieter and Ryan Cobbins walk onto the court after a timeout during their game against No. 20 Oklahoma on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won 83-74 on Senior Night.

Fellow seniors Taiyanna Jackson and Zakiyah Franklin added 12 and 11 points, with Jackson once again posting a double-double with 15 rebounds. Wyvette Mayberry and Ryan Cobbins rounded out the group of honorees playing possibly their final regular-season game at Allen Fieldhouse. (Mayberry has another year of eligibility.)

“I think that just makes it so much more special, just knowing that we have that support,” Franklin said of her experience as a Jayhawk. “This is a great place, not just to play in, but we know that we have other people who have our back and our best interest (in mind).”

“The first thought when I think of this place is just I think security,” Kersgieter added. “I can rely on these people all the time, I can rely on this place and this program.”

The Jayhawks’ defense came out swinging to open the top-20 challenge Saturday, forcing seven turnovers and 5-for-14 shooting, including 0-for-5 from behind the arc, by the league-leading Sooners. Kansas, meanwhile scored seven points off turnovers, including four on the fast break.

After Kersgieter scored the first points of the game on a fast-break layup, the Sooners responded with three straight scoring trips to take an early 6-2 lead. That was when the Kansas defense really showed up, holding the Sooners, who lead the Big 12 with 84.2 points per game, to only four more points throughout the quarter. This included an over-four-minute scoring drought following the 6-2 lead and another three-minute dry spell. During this time, Kansas went on a 17-4 run, led by Nichols with 10 points.

After shooting 36% in the first quarter, Oklahoma came out in the second and went 10-for-11, and 4-for-4 from 3-point range, good for a 91% shooting clip. The Jayhawks’ defense struggled, with Jackson only playing four minutes in the quarter after she picked up her second foul. The Sooners embarked on a 15-point run that gave them only their second lead of the game at 22-21.

“Jackson is such a difference-maker in this league,” Baranczyk said. “Her mobility, I think her length, I think she’s a great team player. Obviously, she’s a great shot blocker too, and I think she really impacted us today.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas’ Taiyanna Jackson (1) and Oklahoma’s Kiersten Johnson (5) fight over a ball Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kersgieter ended Kansas’ nearly four-minute scoring drought with a midrange jumper before a seven-point Oklahoma run gave the Sooners their biggest lead at 31-23. Kersgieter then became the only Jayhawk to score multiple buckets in the quarter, as she sank her second 3 of the night.

Finally, Nichols’ hard work inside and her ability to drive and draw fouls worked to Kansas’ advantage, which is something Schneider had acknowledged the importance of last week. Nichols scored the last 11 Jayhawk points of the half, including two three-point plays, to shrink Kansas’ deficit to two, 39-37, at the break. She led Kansas with 19 points at the half, while Kersgieter had 12.

The Jayhawks struggled heavily on the boards in the first half, with Jackson only grabbing five rebounds and Kansas losing the battle 17 to 10. The Jayhawks also allowed a 60% shooting mark by the Sooners in the half after their nearly perfect shooting in the second quarter.

“I think we stopped really crashing the boards as the game went on,” Baranczyk said, as the Sooners won the rebound battle only 21-18 in the second half, “We had a lot more opportunities than they did because we didn’t make a lot of shots … I feel like we kind of ran out of gas or just weren’t tough enough. Probably both.”

The defensive struggles from the second carried through the break, as Kansas allowed a nearly two-minute-long possession that featured two Jayhawk fouls and four offensive rebounds for the Sooners to take a 41-39 lead. The game was back-and-forth through the first half of the period, with the two teams trading off a one-point lead, mostly from the free-throw line. Then an 8-2 run led again by Nichols and Kersgieter allowed the Jayhawks to pull away for the first time in the second half, as they went up 55-48. Kansas eventually had a six-point lead heading into its last 10 minutes of the regular season.

The fourth began with a steady tradeoff that featured two made 3s by the Jayhawks as they grew their advantage to a 70-60 lead on an impressive three-point play by Kersgieter. Both teams struggled on offense around the five-minute mark, but a few key defensive rebounds by Skyler Gill and Cobbins, along with another pair of free throws by Nichols, allowed the Jayhawks to maintain a comfortable advantage, and another pair of Nichols free throws gave Kansas its largest lead of the night at 76-65.

With an 11-point lead with less than three minutes to play, the Jayhawks slowed down some, allowing some quick baskets from the Sooners that were matched by Kansas, leading Oklahoma to foul twice in a row for a 13-point Jayhawk lead. As Jackson fouled out with 16 seconds to go, she received a resounding standing ovation, before Kansas’ final inbound allowed the Jayhawks to hold the ball for a 83-74 win.

“Taiyanna’s a program-changing player because of her ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor,” Schneider said. “And I’m really proud of everything that she’s accomplished here, and I think there’s far more to do in the next few weeks.”

Nichols and Kersgieter once again proved their value in close late-game situations, scoring 12 of Kansas’ 25 points in the fourth quarter as Nichols went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe.

“She’s phenomenal,” Baranczyk said of Nichols. “And as a freshman, she’s got a very, very bright future.”

KU sits in seventh place in the Big 12 and is in line to play its first conference tournament game on Friday at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, with matchups pending.

With the conclusion of the regular season ending on a high note for the Jayhawks, they will now turn their focus to postseason play, starting with the Big 12 tournament, but not ending there.

“Last season we fell short, and went to the (WNIT), but I think that experience taught us a lot. We will never forget that experience, we’re very grateful for it, but we always want to set our heights so much bigger,” Franklin said. “This season that’s all we’ve been thinking about. Regardless of record … we’re just chipping away each game, and I think it’s showing now, and now is a better time than ever.”

MORE PHOTOS: KU women ring in senior night with win over Oklahoma.


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