Jayhawks hope for success in showdown against Wildcats in Big 12 Tournament

Losing five consecutive games isn’t exactly how Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson envisioned heading into this weekend’s Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament in Oklahoma City. But after doing just that, her squad will likely have a nothing-to-lose mentality entering Friday’s first-round matchup against Kansas State.

After splitting their two regular-season contests, both teams will be looking to salvage what’s largely been a disappointing season by taking the Sunflower Showdown series. They’ll play for the right to face No. 9 Baylor on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas has lost in about every way imaginable over recent weeks. When the team shoots well, it gets dominated on the boards. When it rebounds well, it can’t get shots to fall. When it rebounds and shoots well, it doesn’t play defense. Firing on all cylinders will certainly be an emphasis for the Jayhawks heading into Oklahoma City.

Additionally, it’s crucial that junior forward Chelsea Gardner stays out of foul trouble. It’s been something she’s struggled with all season and you can be sure the Wildcats will try to draw a few early hacks from Kansas’ leading scorer. She was limited to only 16 minutes in Tuesday’s loss to West Virginia after picking up two fouls in the game’s opening minutes.

Kansas’ offensive dynamic completely flips with Gardner on the bench. Generally, the team attempts to work down to Gardner for a high-percentage shot in the paint; Gardner-less, it tends to rely more on jump shots from junior guards Asia Boyd and Natalie Knight. She must stay on the court for the Jayhawks to have an opportunity to advance.

But Kansas State hasn’t been particularly impressive of late either. The Wildcats finished ninth in the Big 12, dropping nine of their final 12 conference games. Their last win was a 76-68 defeat of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 26.

The bulk of K-State’s troubles this year have occurred on offense; it is ninth in both field goal percentage — it shoots only 38 percent — and from 3-point range, where it hits only 29 percent of its attempts. Kansas will look to keep the ball out of the paint, limiting the Wildcats to mid-range jumpers and 3-point shots.

Freshman guard Leticia Romero has had her way with the Jayhawks over the initial two games of the series, averaging 21.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds. She constantly presents a threat driving to the basket, but can just as quickly kick it out for an open three. Romero’s ball-handling skills are among the league’s best and she’s capable of scoring from anywhere on the court.

It will be interesting to see how the rubber match plays out, as neither of the first two were particularly close affairs. Kansas more-or-less dominated from beginning to end in the first matchup, and Kansas State enjoyed a rather easy defeat of the Jayhawks in the second.

These are two evenly-matched teams that have already had a couple games to figure each other out. With both of their seasons on the line, expect this go-around to be much closer than the previous two.

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

  • Updated Mar. 5, 2014 at 11:40 pm