Tiger and Jayhawk fans know about the rivalry between their schools, but one important person was clueless.
“I wasn’t aware when I took the job,” Kansas women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “I anticipated that (the big rival) would be Kansas State and not that it’s not, but I didn’t realize the intensity of the Missouri rivalry, but I do now.
“The kids have helped me understand.”
This is Henrickson’s first season at the helm for the Jayhawks. She coached Virginia Tech for seven years before that.
On Saturday, Missouri (7-9, 1-4 Big 12 Conference) will face Kansas (7-8, 0-4) at 7 p.m. in Lawrence, Kan. Both teams are trying to end a four-game losing skid.
It is crucial for the Tigers to find a form of team consistency. Missouri coach Cindy Stein said the team has been making poor decisions in all areas, but added the responsibility starts with her.
The Tigers allowed another victory to slip away against Colorado on Jan. 18.
Kansas will be coming off a much-needed six-day rest.
“It’s good timing for us, we just might need another one,” Henrickson said.
The Jayhawks lost a tough game to Texas A&M, 62-60, on Jan. 15.
“I was pleased with their last 16 minutes of the second half, but certainly we need to address the first 24,” Henrickson said
The Jayhawks dug an 18-point deficit against Texas A&M.
Having a break has also allowed some time for Kansas’ Erica Hallman to heal.
“Erica had sprained her ankle before the A&M game, although she played the game,” Henrickson said. “She’s pretty sore and has a hard time pushing off at times, you can see on film.”
Hallman, a 5-foot-8 guard, is a crucial part of Kansas’ offense. She is the team’s assist leader and is averaging 11.9 points and 5.1 assists.
The Tigers have some experience with injuries as well.
“I mean its different stuff,” Stein said. “Kassie Drew and EeTisha Riddle have stress factures. You’ve got Tiffany Brooks that’s dealing with a high-ankle sprain, and Christelle N’Garsanet is battling with a foot strain.”
N’Garsanet, a 6-foot-3 center, must push through her injury for the Tigers to find success. She creates a major problem inside for the Jayhawks.
“N’Garsanet’s a big kid inside that we just don’t match-up against and their perimeter’s real big as well,” Henrickson said.
Against Colorado, N’Garsanet scored only seven points but grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Jayhawks’ Crystal Kemp, a 6-foot-2 center/forward, will battle inside against the Tigers. The junior has been high-scorer in seven games this season. She is leading Kansas in scoring and rebounding, with an average of 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Missouri needs the continued big play of Tiffany Brooks, but the recently silent LaToya Bond efforts have struggled.
Stein said the team’s play can fall on point guard Bond.
“You would have thought that we have a returning point guard at that position, and you would think that would help, Stein said. “But when she’s on the bench because of fouls, it puts a new person in a new scenario and those are some of the issues we are trying to fix.”
Bond is averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 steals. She also leads the team in turnovers with 66.
Stein said that Brooks’ has given a new energy to Missouri defensively and with her ability to slash to the basket.
“She’s still probably not where she needs to be because she’s still ‘what?’, seven or eight games into playing this year,” Stein said. “She’s getting better and better every game, we like that.”
Brooks leads the Tigers in scoring with 14.3 points a game.
Kansas’ Aquanita Burras, a 5-foot-9 guard, is a senior leader for the team. She scored a season-high 24 points against Texas A&M and could prove to be a difference-maker.
Burras averages 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Henrickson said the team’s downfall is realizing how difficult it is to play at this level.
“Understanding what it takes to be successful,” Henrickson said. “How hard that is everyday in practice, how hard that is on game day.”
“As a group they’ve been committed to trying to do the right thing. (They’ve) been very coachable and give great effort. I don’t have an ounce of trouble with them and they’ve really embraced the change. I respect that because that’s difficult for kids’ that age.”