KU looks back on Michigan comeback, ahead to Monday’s matchup with USC

Kansas guard Zakiyah Franklin (15) controls the ball against Michigan guard Elissa Brett (0) during a first-round college basketball game in the women's NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

After a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback turned into an overtime victory over No. 9 Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks are ready to continue to shock the world in their second-round matchup against top-seeded USC on Monday.

“I feel like we’ll match up pretty well with them,” said fifth-year senior Zakiyah Franklin. “They have a pretty great freshman on their team and other well-balanced players … We just have to have attention to detail tomorrow and just be us, especially on the defensive end, and I think it’ll work out pretty well for us.”

Franklin, who recorded her third game of the season with 20-plus points by dropping 22 in the first round, hit the impressive game-tying shot with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, where she ended up grabbing a board and scoring on a crucial drive after the Wolverines made it a one-possession game.

“That was such an amazing moment,” senior transfer Ryan Cobbins said of the game-tying 3-pointer. “We were (saying) on the bench that that’s something we’ll remember forever. And for KB (Franklin) to be a fifth-year senior and to hit that shot, it was so timely and this is March, so it was right on time.”

Franklin stepped up big for a rather slow Jayhawk offense through the first three quarters, going 9-for-16 from the floor while dishing four assists and grabbing five boards.

“KB’s been one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Cobbins said. “She’s cool, calm and collected, but we get a smile out of her every once in a while … She’s a great team player and you’re happy that you’re on the same team as her and not necessarily going against her.”

A key in the later stages of its win, Kansas’ defense in the Michigan matchup on Saturday had been off and on going into the fourth quarter until the Jayhawks turned up the heat, holding the Wolverines to only 14 points while forcing four turnovers.

“Pretty much that’s our identity,” Franklin said of this defensive intensity. “That’s what we wanted it to be all year and I feel like we showed that late in the fourth and … overtime. If we can just put that together for a full game tomorrow, I’m pretty sure it will work out well.”

Kansas will have a much tougher task against the Trojans, who score over 75 points per game, and more specifically freshman sensation JuJu Watkins, who’s averaged a 27-point, seven-rebound, three-assist line this season.

“They’re obviously a well-balanced team and have a great freshman in JuJu,” Franklin said. “Pretty much we’re going to just have to be pretty scout-specific based on things whenever we go out and play tomorrow, so basically just good attention to detail.”

Along with Watkins, USC also has another guard in McKenzie Forbes who averages over 10 points a game and, unlike Michigan, has a comparable matchup to Taiyanna Jackson down low in Rayah Marshall, who averages a double-double on the season, just like Jackson.

The Trojans sit in about the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 Conference in defense, but have drawn the most fouls from opponents of any team in the conference, which is not a good sign for the Jayhawks after they had to worry about foul trouble with both Jackson and top scorer S’Mya Nichols on Saturday.

While Watkins has been talked about on the national stage, Kansas has a freshman phenom of its own in Nichols, whose elevated play in the fourth quarter against Michigan put the Jayhawks over the top to force an eventual win after she started off pretty cold from the floor. The good thing for Kansas is that it has enough contributing pieces to step up if one is having a rough go of things, which Franklin and Wyvette Mayberry did against the Wolverines.

But Nichols will have to be more consistent in this second-round matchup against the No. 3 team in the country if the Jayhawks are going to pull off an impressive upset.

“It would be huge for this program,” Franklin said of the possibility. “I think that it’s a lot to think about right now, but obviously if we get the job done tomorrow and do everything we’re supposed to do and all those thoughts and things will come into play. Right now we’re just focused on trying to get the job done tomorrow.”

Franklin also said that the Jayhawks’ increased defensive intensity in the fourth quarter and overtime will give them a great advantage heading into the matchup, as that’s the identity they’ve been cultivating all season long and they finally worked it out in the most important moment on Saturday.

What will be most important for the Jayhawks on Monday is consistency, after the Michigan matchup had up and down quarters throughout that saw them go on numerous hot and cold streaks, making it difficult to keep a grasp on the game.

That consistency will need to include efficiency on offense and contribution from all of KU’s supporting cast, along with the lockdown defense that it displayed in the late moments of the first round.

“We have other fifth-year seniors and we just want to keep playing, as well as our younger players and just allow them to experience this moment with us,” Franklin said.

“They’re talented all across the board, but we know we need to play our (kind of) basketball to hopefully come up on the winning end,” Cobbins added. “It goes without saying that we’ll continue to play and we all want to keep dancing. It would be historic, but that’s what we want to do, so we’ll put our best foot forward.”

Perhaps the toughest challenge of Kansas’ year is set to take place at the Galen Center on Monday with a 9 p.m. Central tipoff time. It will be the Jayhawks’ first appearance on ESPN this season.


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