Jayhawk Insider: Tough and together on full display early in season
By: Jordan Cronan
LAWRENCE, Kan. — From Nebraska to Louisiana to Las Vegas, Kansas’ tough nonconference schedule has prepared the Jayhawks for their even tougher Big 12 slate. Only dropping one of its first 11 games, Kansas had its best nonconference record since the 2010-11 season and the first 10-1 start under head coach Brandon Schneider.
KU’s only loss on the season was to former Big 12 foe Nebraska when the Jayhawks fell to the Huskers in early December, but the loss didn’t keep Kansas from walking away with wins at LSU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and bringing home the Desert Division title at Duel in the Desert Tournament by defeating Washington State and Northwestern.
“With the exception of Nebraska, I think we’ve gotten exceptionally better,” Schneider said. “Offensively, as we continue to establish our roles and play with a little bit better rhythm and timing, we have a chance to be quite a bit better there.”
Kansas’ 5-0 homestand to start the 2018-19 campaign was a chance for Jayhawks to step into their roles. Seniors Austin Richardson, Christalah Lyons and Brianna Osorio seemed to not skip a beat as the trio notched double figures, leading KU over its first win of the season against UMKC.
“We have a bunch of hitters,” sixth year guard Jessica Washington said. “One goes down, we’ve just got to pick them back up and we have people that can pick them back up.”
As returning players brought the tough and together mentality back to the court, it didn’t take long for freshman guards Aniya Thomas and Brooklyn Mitchell to show Kansas fans what they could do. The freshman duo combined for 30 points in their second appearance in the Crimson and Blue and helped lift KU to its second win of 2018-19.
“We’ve got some really tough girls on our team and we’ve got to bring that toughness and togetherness during the Big 12 (schedule),” senior guard Brianna Osorio said.
After a few hot shooting and record setting nights for Kansas as senior guard Kylee Kopatich and Washington both reached 1,000-career points, the Jayhawks needed to rely on their defense to pull out a win against LSU. During its first road test of the season, KU forced the Tigers into 22 turnovers off of 14 steals from the Jayhawks.
Returning home from LSU and the lone loss on the season at Nebraska, Kansas bounced back with one of its best defensive performances yet against Grambling State. The Jayhawks held the Lady Tigers to the lowest shooting percentage by an opposing team this season at 22.2 percent. Rebounding, however, is something that still needs some work.
“I like the identity we’ve developed on the defensive end,” Schneider said. “Defensive rebounding was a real issue for us and we’re not there yet, but I do think we have enough understanding that we need to work on it and improve.”
Kansas proved resilient when the Jayhawks would see two tough opponents in two-straight nights during the Duel in the Desert Tournament in Las Vegas. Once again, lights-out shooting and a season best 55.8 field goal percentage led the Jayhawks to top Washington State and eventually taking the Desert Division Title over Northwestern.
With the nonconference schedule coming and going, the Jayhawks now set their sights on a tough Big 12 schedule, but they’re up to the challenge.
“I feel like with the group of girls we have this season we can really surprise people,” Washington said. “I think we still feel like we’re the underdogs which pushes us every day in practice and just gives us another reason to prove people wrong.”
The majority of the season is still ahead for Kansas, but the Jayhawks know that every game matters in working towards and achieving the final goal.
“I think we’re a really good team this year,” Osorio said. “I think we’re going to compete really well in the Big 12 and our goal is to make it to the tournament.”
Kansas opens Big 12 play at home against No. 25 Iowa State on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 1 p.m., and looks to continue its winning ways into a very demanding Big 12 schedule.
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