KU Women Play On

KU fans have at least one more game to catch March Madness at Allen Fieldhouse.

That's because the Kansas women's basketball team ran past Creighton, 79-64, at the Phog Monday night to advance to the third round of the WNIT for the second straight year. The Jayhawks will play Arkansas back in Lawrence Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Razorbacks (18-13) beat Oklahoma State in a thrilling 61-60 overtime game in Fayettevile last night.

While KU (19-13) won by 15 points, this wasn't an easy victory. After a 10-day layoff from their last game against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament, the Jayhawks seemed tight early with bad shot selection, missing their first seven shots and two of their first 13.

Kansas was down 10-7 at the 12:23 mark before finally getting untracked. Led by junior Sade Morris' 14-first-half points,  KU turned up the defensive pressure, got easy buckets in transition, and made 13 of its next 19 shots to take a commanding 38-21 lead at halftime.

KU coach Bonnie Henrickson admitted her team was "rusty" at the beginning of the game.

"I thought we were out of rhythm a little bit early on," she said, "but we were able to settle down."

However, the Bluejays kept the KU fans on edge the entire second half, in large part, with their relentless offensive rebounding. Creighton outscored Kansas 12 to three on second-chance points after halftime as they rallied and pulled within nine points (64-55) with 7:10 remaining. Kansas freshman forward Aishah Sutherland, who came up huge with a career-high 15 points and matching her career best with 12 rebounds and two steals, answered with an offensive put-back on her own miss for a traditional three-point play.

But Creighton wouldn't surrender. The Bluejays came within nine points three more times, but blew a a crucial opportunity down 71-62 to cut KU's lead to seven or six when forward Megan Neuvirth was called for charging with 3:16 remaining. She hit two free throws 16 seconds later to make it a nine-point game again, but that's as close as Creighton would get the rest of the way.

KU senior guard Ivana Catic responded with a layup, followed by a 15-foot jumper off the glass by McCray with the shot clock winding down to push Kansas' lead to 77-64 with 1:56 left.

With the Jayhawk fans breaking out the Rock Chalk Chant and applauding their team with a standing ovation in the  last 45 seconds, Sutherland punctuated the victory and her career night with a layup and final points of the game with nine seconds remaining.

McCray led KU with 25 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Morris with 21 and Sutherland's 15 points. Kansas shot 54.1 percent from the field, including a scorching 62.1 percent in the second half. KU held the Bluejays to just 34.9 percent shooting and dominated them in the paint (48 to 22) and in transition (13 to two on fast break points).

The Jayhawks also limited Creighton's leading scorer Chevelle Herring to just five points. The 5-4 junior guard exploded for 31 points in the teams' last meeting on Dec. 13, a 59-58 KU overtime victory.  

The Bluejays had four players in double figures, led by guard Kelsey Woodard with 15 points.

It wasn't a pretty win (Morris had eight turnovers), but in McCray's words, KU "just survived(ed) and advanced." The junior star knows the Jayhawk must be sharper against Arkansas.

"It's very important that we don't repeat last year and lose the third-round game," McCray said, referring to KU's loss at Michigan State in the WNIT last March.

"Tonight wasn't our best game. I think we were sloppy on both ends. We practiced for a week without games and it kind of showed. We just have to bring our focus back for Thursday."

KU got past Creighton thanks to the terrific threesome of Morris, McCray and Sutherland. Morris was the pivotal force the first half with her dynamic play in transition and her ability to get to the rim in the half-court offense.

"She can take anybody to the basket," McCray said. "(When) she's aggressive, you can't stop her."

The Jayhawks are now hoping to become unstoppable and capture their first 20-win season since 2000 with a victory over Arkansas Thursday night.

For KU, it's all about extending the madness.

"I want to keep playing," said Catic, who was superb with seven points, seven assists and just one turnover.

"I want to play into April. When we found out we weren't going to the NCAA tournament, we decided we needed to win the NIT. We can't look ahead. We need to keep our heads down, have good practices and do well on Thursday."

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