Ready for the Big 12 Tournament
A sea of crimson and blue constantly swarms to the basketball. A hand occupies every passing lane, and a clean look at the basket is only a rumor. The Kansas Jayhawks women’s basketball team knows, heading down the stretch into the Big 12 Tournament, that its stifling defense is the key to postseason success.
Bitter in-state rival Kansas State, in a recent matchup in Lawrence with the ‘Hawks, received a 40-minute lesson in defensive pressure. The Wildcats mustered just over a point per minute for the entire contest.
K-State junior guard Kim Woodlee says the Jayhawks’ dominant “D” set the pace in Kansas’ 61-43 win.
“Our timing wasn’t what it needed to be, and you have to credit them for that…. We were a little out of rhythm and out of sync,” she says.
And, Wildcats coach Deb Patterson says, the Jayhawks’ size and physical style had her team fighting an uphill battle from the opening tip.
“They play with such great confidence … so aggressive on the ball, denying the next pass. They just do a great job of keeping their hands up, staying in stance, being physical, and really sustaining that over the course of a 40-minute game.”
Senior forward Lynn Pride, the ‘Hawks’ leading scorer, averages 17 points per game. She says her teammates must remember the highlights, such as the crucial road win at highly ranked Iowa State, to remain at the top of their game for the stretch.
“We can’t afford to slip right now,” Pride says. “I feel like everyone bought into our defensive effort, and it’s good that everybody’s on the same page with it.”
While Pride paces the ‘Hawks in scoring, it was forward Jaclyn Johnson who set the tone on the offensive end of the floor in the Feb. 19 Sunflower Showdown.
The 6’1″ junior from Burbank, Calif., who poured in 16 points, making 8 of 12 attempts against the Wildcats, feels she’s a great weapon but that opponents often overlook her.
“They were trying to get with Lynn and Suzi (Raymant), so it was my turn to score. That’s just the way this team works…. This team really knows who we are, and we’re putting that on the floor every game,” Johnson said.
The third-largest crowd — 8,650 people — in KU women’s basketball history packed Allen Fieldhouse for the K-State contest, and Johnson says that support makes an unbelievable difference, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“I couldn’t imagine playing in front of 16,000 fans. I was just overwhelmed with the amount of fans here. It just pumps you, because any time you do anything good, like touch a ball, they’re loud. That just gives you more energy.”
Junior Jennifer Jackson, whose defensive hustle continues to spark the crowd and the team, says her teammates have great focus when their opponents have the ball.
“We just want to come out and play some good defense. We can’t really look at the scoreboard and worry about how many points we’re giving up. We just … want to know that we’ve got more points at the end of the game.”
The 5’10” point guard says the win over Iowa State solidifies the ‘Hawks as contenders and gives team members the confidence they need to face the challenge of the hostile postseason environment.
“It’s fun to go into a place where the fans are into it,” Jackson says. “I think one of the hardest places to play is not necessarily against a hostile crowd but more against a place where there’s no people at all, and where you get no energy at all.”
With KU’s starters regularly logging better than 30 minutes per game, head coach Marian Washington continues the search for an impact player off the bench.
“We’re still working on that, but most of our scoring will come from our starting lineup … and it’s a (balanced attack),” Washington says.
Since the season’s outset, coaches leaguewide have preached about the parody of the conference, and for next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., the field remains wide open. Any of the four teams involved in the heated race for the regular season title (KU, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas Tech) could take home the postseason crown. Texas, Missouri, and Nebraska also are all capable of a strong showing.
Washington, in her 27th year at Kansas, says this team gained a lot of composure during the conference run, especially on the road. She says a tough loss in late January to league frontrunner Texas Tech set the tone for huge wins away from the fieldhouse later in the season.
“Our kids just stayed very focused. That’s an indication we are growing and maturing. If we can keep building on that it will help us, particularly if we get into the (NCAA) tournament and we’re forced to go on the road. We’ve got to have that poise,” she says.
That sentiment is echoed by Johnson, who feels the team is ready to make a strong postseason showing.
“We just have to keep building every game,” she says. “If we can play like that throughout the year, we’re gonna be tough to beat.”