With the fifth-largest crowd in school history (8,360) cheering, screaming and believing, the Kansas women's basketball team beat Illinois State, 75-72, in a thrilling WNIT semifinal and advanced to the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. against South Florida back in Allen Fieldhouse.
"What a game," a KU fan told a friend minutes after KU's dramatic
It sure was.
Bonnie Henrickson's Jayhawks (22-13) held off a furious Illinois State
(27-8) second-half rally to claim the victory. KU was up 17 points
(48-31 at the 13:22 mark) before the Redbirds raced back and cut the
Jayhawks' lead to two (61-59) with 3:32 remaining.
Sophomore center Krysten Boogaard (18 points) had just fouled out as
the Jayhawks' championship dreams were seemingly slipping away.
But KU answered with a fastbreak layup by senior guard Ivana Catic and
two free throws by sophomore forward Nicollette Smith. After forward
Ashleen Bracey knocked down a three to cut KU's lead to 65-62 with 1:02
left, it was time for KU's franchise player to make the most important
play of the game.
Junior forward Danielle McCray retrieved the offensive rebound off her
missed layup and put the ball back in and got fouled.
The standing Allen Fieldhouse crowed roared as McCray screamed and
shimmied with excitement. She then made the free-throw for the
"I just stayed with it and managed to make the shot and get
fouled," McCray said. "I was able to get the fans into the
game and I was so pumped up. It was a great feeling."
Smith hit five of six free throws in the next 27 seconds to put KU up
73-69 with nine seconds remaining. Unfortunately for Kansas, freshman
forward Aishah Sutherland fouled star guard Kristi Cirone on a
three-point attempt. Cirone (team-high 24 points) hit all three
charities to make it a one-point game (73-72) with three ticks left
before Illinois State fouled McCray in desperation.
The former Olathe East (Kan.) High star calmly sank two free throws for
a game-high 31 points. ISU had one last gasp, but a full-court pass
went into the hands of KU junior guard Sade Morris. She flipped the
ball to McCray, who ended the game tossing the ball in the air at the
The Jayhawks raced to midcourt and hugged each other knowing they were
just one win away from capturing the WNIT championship.
It was another commanding performance from McCray, who scored over 30
points for the third straight game. She also added six rebounds and two
blocks while playing all 40 minutes.
"She's an amazing player," Illinois State coach Robin Pingeton gushed.
"She's just a talented young lady. I felt like at times she was getting
a little fatigued but she got her second, third and fourth wind.
There's a reason that she's first team all-Big 12."
McCray and the Jayhawks were ecstatic with the victory and playing in
front of the huge crowd.
"It was just great to have that energy and know that the fans are
cheering for you," McCray said. "I can't stress enough how appreciative
we are for all the fans that came out and supported us
tonight It really helps us out a lot."
Boogaard was also grateful for the fan support. Heck, Allen Fieldhouse
was rocking like it was a KU men's Big 12 basketball game. The crimson
and blue fans stood and cheered in the final minutes.
"It was incredible," Boogaard said. "I saw the newspapers (from the
students during pre-game introductions) they use during the guys' games
that they usually hold up. It was just very exciting to be in that
environment and I am really excited so many people came out,. Hopefully
they all come back Saturday. It was far more than I expected. I thought
there may be 5,000 people here."
KU shot a sizzling 54.3 percent from the field and held the Redbirds to
just 37.7 percent shooting. The Jayhawks also dominated the boards, 39
to 29 and shot 24 of 30 from the free-throw line, compared to 17 of 21
But Illinois State managed to stay with KU the first half (ISU actually
led 17-14 with over nine minutes remaining before Kansas went on a 17-8
run to lead 31-25 at halftime) and rally in the second half as the
Jayhawks committed 18 turnovers, to just six by the Redbirds. Illinois
State outscored Kansas 18 to seven on points off turnovers, including
10 to two after halftime.
But KU survived and advanced in one of the biggest wins of the
Henrickson era. Shortly after the game, Henrickson walked back onto
James Naismith Court for her radio interview, receiving cheers from the
fans. The KU coach pumped her right fist in the air, exhaled deeply,
embraced KU athletic director Lew Perkins and "Mother of KU Women's
Athletics" Marlene Mawson (KU women's first basketball coach in 1968),
and gave high-fives to fans behind press row.
Henrickson was enjoying the moment, but already looking ahead to
Saturday's championship game.
"Bring two of your closest friends and will fill this place up," she
said. "Thanks again for the crowd. We need you one more time."
Henrickson then spoke to reporters in the interview room about the
game. While she wasn't happy about blowing the big second-half lead,
Henrickson was proud of her players' poise in crunch time.
"It is a credit to our kids to find a way to stay in it and execute
down the stretch," she said. "We need to kick ourselves in the pants
for having a 16-point lead, letting that go, and making it into a game,
but we need to pat ourselves on the back for winning."
While McCray spearheaded the victory with 31 points off harassing,
physical ISU defense, KU wouldn't have won this game without Boogaard.
She was aggressive on offense and on the boards, getting good looks
inside with the Redbirds focusing heavily on McCray.
Boogaard went 6 of 8 from the field and 6 of 7 at the free throw line.
She scored eight of KU's first 14 points and opened the second half
scoring six of the Jayhawks' first nine points as KU extended its lead
to 13 (41-28 with 16:59 remaining). Boogaard actually made her first
five shots before finally missing with 13:24 remaining in the game. She
also added seven boards and three blocks.
After failing to score in double figures for five straight games (4.6
ppg during that span), the 6-5 Boogaard has come up big the last two
contests. She had 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 20
minutes Monday night at New Mexico.
"I knew that I needed to step up big tonight and play hard," Boogaard
said. "I had a lot of confidence tonight coming off the game at New
Mexico and then getting a good practice in yesterday."
KU will need another stellar performance from Boogaard, McCray and
their teammates to beat South Florida (26-10) and win its first WNIT in
school history. USF crushed Boston College, 82-65, at Chestnut Hill,
Mass., Wednesday night in the other WNIT semifinal.
Kansas women's basketball has become the talk of town, and the Jayhawks
want to keep people buzzing on Saturday.
"It is one game that we got to win," Henrickson said. "With that comes
some special opportunities for these kids to so something special for
the seniors and leave here and say that was was their legacy, to win a
Catic is ready to seize the moment.
"It would just be great," she said about winning the WNIT title. "When
I first got here, the program was down. People didn't really come to
watch our games. And tonight, to see almost 8,500 people, it was great
to see the community finally realize we're a good basketball team and
we play good basketball.
"The fact that I can end my career on a win with a trophy is great. I
hope to do that."
KU Women Advance To WNIT Final
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