Lady Jayhawks Eye Big 12 Championship Prize

They arrived at Kansas in 2006 as the heralded recruiting class named the Magnificent Seven by this reporter.

These seven Lady Jayhawks' basketball players faced great expectations, and were more than ready to embrace the challenge. Some of the freshmen at the time even spoke about winning a national championship before their careers concluded.

"We have a really good chance once we figure everything out," guard Sade Morris said then. "We can win one."

Three years later, the Magnificent Seven are now the Fab Five seniors (Morris, Danielle McCray, Kelly Kohn, LaChelda Jacobs, and Porscha Weddington) ready to take their place in KU history.

KU coach Bonnie Henrickson doesn't think it's "appropriate" to talk about the NCAA championship at this point (Kansas hasn't even made the Big Dance since 2000), but she and the players are openly discussing their goal of winning their first Big 12 title with no sole dominant team in the conference.

After finishing 22-14  last year and advancing to the WNIT title game, Kansas is ready to take that next big leap.

"I think in our huddle, realistically, we should expect to be in a position to win a conference championship," said Henrickson, whose Jayhawks were picked to finish in a tie for second place in the preseason Big 12 coaches' poll.

"We understand there is a lot of work to be done before that comes to fruition, but no one is afraid to talk about a conference championship. These kids have put in the time. They have committed to what we have asked them to do and it has been a lot of hard work."

Whether or not KU wins a Big 12 title or advances far in March, one matter remains certain. This 2009-10 Kansas team will be easily the best squad Henrickson's fielded since taking over the KU head coaching job in 2004.

The Jayhawks, who just lost one starter (point guard Ivana Catic), return All-American candidate McCray at small forward, scorer/defensive specialist Morris at shooting guard, shot blocker Krysten Boogaard at center, and three-point bomber Nicollette Smith at power forward. Important reserves back are combo guard Jacobs, sophomore power forward Aishah Sutherland, power forward Weddington, and shooting guard Kohn.

And then there's another large, standout recruiting class to mix in with the veterans. The Super Six newcomers are a well-rounded bunch with guards Marisha Brown, Monica Engelman, Rhea Codio, and forwards Carolyn Davis, Annette Davis, and Tania Jackson.

But the most heralded newcomer is redshirt freshman point guard Angel Goodrich, the 5-4 prodigy ready to run the Jayhawk attack after sitting out last season with a torn ACL. She is fully recovered and expected to be a huge difference maker with her playmaking abilities.

"It is the much awaited and anticipated impact of her on the program," Henrickson said. "I think for her, every day there is more confidence, more attack mode and more aggressiveness."

Goodrich's teammates are thrilled to have her back.

"It will be easier for us because she is the kind of point guard that gets you when you're open," Morris said. "You might not even know you're open, but she's going to get it. She's going to get that perfect timing where you can catch and shoot, so we don't have to create our shot so much."

Goodrich, Jacobs (5.9 ppg, 110 assists last year) and juco transfer Codio will compete at point guard, while Engelman, Brown, and Kohn (3.2 ppg) will complement Morris (12.7 ppg) and McCray (21.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) on the wings. Henrickson said the 5-9 Engelman has been impressive in early practices.

"She has made shots, she has a good pull-up jump shot and she is a good passer," Henrickson said. "She has real high basketball IQ, which is a credit to the quality coaching she had when she was young. She has a real good demeanor."

Up front, KU fans should see a noticeably improved Boogaard (9.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), the 6-5 pivot who's gained 15 to 20 pounds after spending the summer working out in Lawrence.

"It feels good to not be pushed around as much," Boogaard said. "I need to (play) stronger in the post, I know that's been one of my weaknesses. I've been working for this all my life."

Returning starter Smith (6.4 ppg, 40 threes) will be pushed at power forward by rising sophomore Sutherland (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Weddington (3.3 ppg),  and newcomers Annette Davis, Carolyn Davis, and Jackson. The latter five will also push Boogaard for minutes.

Of course, KU's go-to players are McCray and Morris, the Jayhawks' version of "Batman and Robin." Kansas will be tough to beat when they both bring their ‘A' games.

"It would be really good for us if they would both play lights-out together, a lot," Henrickson said. "I don't know if they have consistently done that. There is no reason for that, it just has not happened as much, but I don't think Sade sits back and waits for Danielle to make plays anymore. She recognizes that she needs to step up and make a play."

The Jayhawks should make a lot of plays this year. This is the deepest group Henrickson has had at Kansas, which means some fierce competition in practices.

"The young kids have pushed the veteran group, but the returners have done a good job helping that group get through the summer and transition into what it takes to play and be successful at this level," Henrickson said. "When you have kids with great motors in practice and great competition in practice, you are going to enhance your chance to improve at a much higher rate."

For Kansas, two big keys are consistency and cutting down on turnovers (17.2 tpg last season). The Jayhawks lost nine of 11 games from mid-January to mid-February before winning their last nine of 12 games en route to the WNIT final game.

KU hopes to ride that strong finish into a magical season in 2009-10. The Jayhawks' five seniors feel a special sense of urgency.

Morris said KU wants to "make a statement like Kansas is back on the map. We've been trying to make a statement for four years now, and this is the year."
Just like she said her freshman year, Morris isn't backing off her statement that Kansas can win a national title.

But first things first — winning the league.

"We're just going with small steps first," Morris said. "I think we're just to a point where we actually believe we can become Big 12 champions. After we win the Big 12 championship, then we're talking about, ‘OK, let's go in this NCAA tournament and take the championship. ... I think we have began to figure it out (system). Look where we are now. We went from playing in the championship game of the WNIT to now talking about Big 12 championships. And from the Big 12 championship, the NCAA (title) is not a far shot at all."

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