Oklahoma’s focus was on stopping Kansas’ sophomore goal-scoring sensation Caroline Smith when the sixth-seed Sooners and third-seed Jayhawks squared off Thursday night at Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Smith, an All-Big 12 First Team selection, found a way to do some damage anyway. She didn’t score a goal, but she got the assist on the game’s only goal. Freshman Jessica Kilpatrick took Smith’s pass off a rebound and buried it in the 33rd minute. All-Big 12 First Team goalkeeper Meghan Miller logged her 10th shutout of the season and No. 21 Kansas hung on for the 1-0 victory in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
The win is Kansas’ first postseason triumph in program history. The Jayhawks were also the only of the top-seeded teams to advance. No. 1-seed Colorado, No. 2-seed Texas and No. 4-seed Texas A&M all lost Thursday. Eighth-seed Missouri and fifth-seed Nebraska will play in the first Friday semifinal at 5 p.m. Kansas will meet seventh-seed Oklahoma State in the other semifinal at 7:30 p.m.
It appears the table is now set for the Jayhawks to make a run to the Big 12 Tournament finals. They beat all three remaining teams earlier in the season, dropping Oklahoma State 2-0 last week, downing Missouri 2-0 and bumping Nebraska 1-0.
History may also be on Kansas’ side, considering the third seed won the tournament last year.
While speaking with junior forward Rachel Gilfillan on Tuesday, it was apparent she and the Jayhawks expected to do some damage in the Big 12 Tourney despite first-round losses the last three years.
“We’re ready to prove ourselves,” said Gilfillan, who ranks third in career points at KU. “I definitely think we’ve turned that corner. Looking back on (the last two years), I feel like we were just kind of complacent, where we were like, ‘Oh, we made the tournament. Yeah.’ And we just didn’t believe in ourselves that we could go further than we did. But now we’ve already made it to that point. We know we have a lot of talent and we really need to get even farther in the tournament.”
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the Jayhawks are pretty much guaranteed to go farther into the season. An NCAA Tournament berth seems assured because of their third place finish in the conference. The win Thursday simply boosts their case.
Fifth-year coach Mark Francis and his players refused to call themselves locks for the tournament, but all said they would be “very, very surprised” if they were left out.
“If we didn’t get in, that’d be really unlucky,” said junior midfielder Amy Geha, who ranks fourth in KU history in career assists. “We deserve to be in there.”