LAWRENCE, Kan. -- A little-known fact for those outside of the Midwest: Kansas and Kansas State have one of the longest rivalries in all of collegiate women’s basketball. Both programs date back to the late 1960s, well before Title IX was signed into law in 1972.
That legislation spawned the majority of women’s hoops varsity programs across the nation, but the Jayhawks and Wildcats were ahead of the curve. Wednesday night at Kansas as the Big 12 season got underway, they met for the 105th time and, no, I actually have not attended all those games.
But growing up in Big Eight territory and being a Kansas resident for the last 16 years, I have seen many, many versions of the Sunflower Showdown. For the last decade, the Wildcats have found a way to win a lot of the time.
The tables were turned Wednesday, though, to both the joy and relief of a veteran Kansas squad. The No. 21 Jayhawks won 72-63 -- just the third victory for KU against K-State since 2001. The Wildcats still lead the overall series, 62-43.
"It’s a big rivalry, and we know they’re going to fight us to the last second,” said KU senior post Carolyn Davis, who has her own personal bad history against the Wildcats. Last February in a loss at K-State, she suffered a severe knee injury that prematurely ended her season.
For KU coach Bonnie Henrickson, the Wildcats have been a longtime pain in the neck; she’s now 3-15 against them. And she didn’t try to downplay how important it was for the Jayhawks to not only get off to a good start in Big 12 play, but to do it against the Wildcats.
“We actually talked about it in the locker room before we left Cal,” Henrickson said of the Jayhawks’ last game before the holiday break, a Dec. 21 loss to the Bears. “We said, ‘Beat K-State. Beat them while you’re home on break; do your cardio, your workouts.’ We said the same thing on New Year’s Eve: ‘Beat K-State tonight, curfew at 11.'”
It was indeed necessary for the Jayhawks to visualize defeating the Wildcats, since it has happened so rarely in recent years. In the case of senior point guard Angel Goodrich, Tuesday was the first time. She was with KU the last time the Jayhawks beat K-State -- Feb. 7, 2010 -- but had suffered a torn ACL a month earlier and was out of action. The only other time since 2001 that Kansas beat the Wildcats was in February 2007 in overtime.
Why has K-State been such a hard matchup for Kansas, even in some seasons when the Jayhawks appeared to be the better team?
“In rivalry games, it will come down to your willingness to compete, to bring great energy, and pay attention to detail from a scouting standpoint,” Henrickson said. “In years past, I thought they got us in those three areas. Walking away from a lot of those games, that’s where I thought we dropped the ball.”
Wednesday, KU fans grimaced as the “small-ball” Wildcats -- they started a five-guard lineup -- took a 36-34 lead at halftime. But the Jayhawks played a much stronger second half for the win. Goodrich had 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Natalie Knight had 16 points, and Davis scored 14.
Davis -- who like Goodrich is a WNBA prospect -- is not yet her old self, which is understandable. She not only tore her ACL last year against K-State, but also dislocated the knee. She feels that she’s getting back into shape; Wednesday, she played 36 minutes.
“I feel like I get a little bit more every game,” Davis said. “I’m still waiting for that game to not think about it at all, but it’s something I've worked on mentally. One thing I need to pick up is to be more aggressive, but that comes with confidence and being able to trust yourself to push it. I’m getting better.”