Junior forward Tina Stephens shoots the basketball in a game against Emporia in Allen Fieldhouse

Junior forward Tina Stephens shoots the ball against Emporia. The Jayhawks defeated the Hornets 66-55 Sunday, Nov. 3.

Column

Kansas women’s basketball will play its first Power Five team this season on Sunday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge when it takes on the Florida Gators. The Jayhawks did not perform well last season against Power Five teams, and the game against Florida will be telling of just how ready Kansas is for Big 12 play. 

The key for the Jayhawks in the game will be how well junior forward Tina Stephens performs. Stephens is a 6-foot-2 JUCO transfer from Florida Southwestern College. However, in only seven games at Kansas, she has played a key role in helping propel the Jayhawks to victory. 

The reason Stephens is so key against Florida is because of her size. Although she is not the tallest player on the roster, she has the strength to be a bully in the paint. 

Florida runs a four-guard lineup, meaning it is undersized at times. However, against Kansas, the Gators’ guards have the height advantage and in a significant way. 

The tallest starting guard for the Jayhawks is 5-foot-7, the height of both freshman Zakiyah Franklin and sophomore Aniya Thomas. Sophomore guard Brooklyn Mitchell is even smaller at 5-foot-6. 

Of the four starting guards for the Gators, the shortest one is 5-foot-9, while two other guards stand at over 6-feet tall. 

The matchup nightmare at the guard position is the reason Stephens should be able to thrive in her role off the bench. Kansas cannot rely on outside shooting as the Gators will likely have hands in faces all game long. This means the Jayhawks will have to find scoring from elsewhere, and that is where Stephens comes in. 

She has size and a big body, and the only player on Florida who can matchup with her is Zada Williams, who has struggled being a low-post defender this season. 

In under 24 minutes a game, Stephens is nearly averaging a double-double with 10.1 points and nine rebounds a game. She isn’t a great shooter, as shown in her 39.4% free throw average, but she can outmuscle defenders and get to the basket. 

Defensively, Stephens won’t be outmatched either, being the same height as Williams. That means if everything goes to plan, she will be able to limit her fouls, keeping her out of foul trouble. In turn, Stephens has the bigger body compared to Williams. Thus, Williams might have to force some fouls to keep Stephens from getting an easy bucket. 

If Stephens can limit her fouls and dominate in the low paint, she could be the leading force for Kansas and help push it to a victory over the Gators. 

Tipoff for the contest is set for Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.