The 20th ranked Kansas State Wildcats invade Lawrence this evening at 7 looking to win their seventh game in a row versus their sunflower state rivals. After losing at home by 30 points last year in front of a large Kansas State crowd, the Jayhawks are hoping that this year’s Kids Day promotion will bring more crimson and blue into the stands for tonight’s Big 12 home opener.
All fans aged 13 and under (or those in 8th grade or lower) will receive free admission to tonight’s game. The complementary tickets will be issued on Saturday evening at 5 PM at the Fieldhouse and several other fun festivities are planned in honor of Kids Day. The most fun of all for KU fans would be to see Kansas hand the Wildcats their second straight Big 12 loss. K-State fell in Ames earlier this week to Iowa State 78-59. On that same Wednesday night, the Jayhawks opened their 2005 conference slate with a 66-51 loss at #7 Texas. While the night ultimately finished in defeat, Kansas assistant coach Katie O’Connor was proud of the way her team battled throughout the game.
“We came and we fought and we battled and came ready on the road and those are all things that you can carry with you and keep consistent, and then try to improve on some things,” said O’Connor. “(There are) some defensive mistakes we made and offensively taking care of the ball, all of those things we’re looking to improve on for (K-state) obviously.”
The loss dropped KU’s record to 7-5 under Bonnie Henrickson, which is the same record the team had posted through twelve games a year ago. A significant difference in 04-05, however, has been the team’s defensive success. KU currently ranks in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense at 53.5 allowed per game, already down more than seven points per game from the team’s total this time a year ago. O’Connor has been pleased with her team’s effort defensively.
“I think what we have done and what the players have really bought into is a defensive game plan and understanding people’s tendencies and understanding how we play certain plays defensively and I think they’ve done a good job in terms of being focused and prepared and carrying out a game plan,” O’Connor said.
But will the Kansas defense have enough to slow down the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year in Kendra Wecker? Even if they do, according to O’Connor, Kansas State has enough guns to beat you in other ways.
“(They have) a tremendous player in Kendra Wecker and a tremendous supporting cast around her,” admitted O’Connor. “She’s not the only one that can score. She’s obviously capable of putting up a large number of points on the board – she had 41 earlier this year – they’ve got kids that are capable of putting up 20 points a game.”
“She averages about 22 and then they’ve got three more kids in double figures. So, they surround her with people that can score as well. We’ve got to be able to defend patterns and defend personnel and understand that we’ve got to contest shots and not let them have anything easy. But there’s a number of them that can put points on the board. They’re very balanced.”
KU’s respect of the Kansas State program extends beyond the ‘Cats offensive capabilities.
“We obviously have tremendous, tremendous respect for K-State,” said O’Connor. “What they’ve done there, how they’ve built that program. They’ve really done in the right way with very, very good people, obviously.”
The Jayhawks and their administration also respect the K-State women’s basketball fans that travel in droves on game day. That’s why the program is really hoping for a great turnout of KU fans tonight at the Fieldhouse.
“When Allen Fieldhouse is full there is no place in America that is a better place to play a basketball game and watch a basketball game,” boasted O’Connor. “We’d love to have the support behind us with the 6th man. I promise you, you’ll see a good game. We’ll come out and compete. We’ll come out and play hard and it’ll be a lot of fun.”
A lot of fun indeed – especially if Kansas can win for the first time against K-State since January 27th, 2001 when they topped the ‘Cats 65-62 in Manhattan.
“We look forward to seeing everyone there and we always say come and then bring 10 of your closest friends,” said O’Connor. “We want to see a lot of blue and red in the stands!”