After a back-and-forth first half, Kansas (20-11) rode a strong second half, particularly the third quarter, to beat Western Kentucky (19-14) 86-72 in the first round of the WNIT on Friday night.
Kansas was led by the outings from its starters, with all five dropping double-digit performances. Leading the pack was senior center Taiyanna Jackson with 21 points and 15 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season. Senior guard Zakiyah Franklin also had a complete game with 20 points, six rebounds, and seven assists. Junior guard Chandler Prater added a double-double of her own with 13 points and 13 rebounds, along with six assists.
The two teams went back and forth to begin the first quarter before Kansas pulled away with a 9-0 run over the final three minutes to claim a 20-14 lead at the end of the quarter. The run was highlighted by Jackson getting going after a slow start with two buckets, including a put-back layup.
Kansas did most of its work inside with 14 points in the paint, led by senior guard Zakiyah Franklin’s six points and four rebounds.
The Jayhawks also did a good job on the glass, pulling down seven offensive rebounds and 15 overall. Junior guard Chandler Prater led the rebounding front with five rebounds, with four coming on the offensive end.
On defense, Kansas forced Western Kentucky to take three-pointers, an area where the Lady Toppers do not excel, shooting 30% on the season. The Lady Toppers shot 2-for-10 from downtown in a quarter where they struggled offensively, only scoring 14 points.
The second quarter is best described as a quarter of runs. Kansas got off to a 7-0 run over 1:35 early in the quarter to build a 27-20 lead, highlighted by five straight points from sophomore guard Sanna Strom.
Western Kentucky answered right back with a 14-2 run of its own over the next three minutes, giving the Lady Toppers a 34-29 lead.
The Jayhawks were able to get back into the game after four straight free throws following a foul and technical foul on Western Kentucky. Franklin made a layup at the end of the quarter to tie the game at 36-36 going into halftime.
Kansas came out of the break on fire, shooting 75% from the floor in the third quarter. The Jayhawks outscored the Lady Toppers 30-15 in the quarter to give them a comfortable lead, one they did not look back from.
“Maybe it’s not going our way, maybe we’re lacking defensively, but we just knew that we needed to step it up,” senior guard Holly Kersgieter said on the message at halftime. “We approached it (second half) with a good mindset clearly because we came out and took care of business.”
The Jayhawks were also able to get out and run, scoring seven points on the fast break in the quarter.
“There were some long rebounds,” head coach Brandon Schneider said on the transition opportunities. “We were able to get possession of it and make the appropriate advance pass.”
The Jayhawks were led by the trio of Jackson, Franklin and Kersgieter in the third quarter. Jackson led Kansas with 9 points while Franklin and Kersgieter added eight apiece. There was an emphasis on getting Jackson involved after only taking four shots in the first half.
“We also wanted to get the ball to Twin (Jackson),” Franklin said on the team’s second-half plan. “She was shooting, I believe, 75% at halftime, so we knew we had to get her the ball, and everything else from there was getting better for us.”
Kansas continued to let the Lady Toppers fire from downtown, with Western Kentucky only making two of its 10 attempts. The hot offense from Kansas and poor shooting from Western Kentucky contributed to a 66-51 Kansas lead at the end of the third quarter.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter, meaning the Lady Toppers were unable to cut into the lead as Kansas continued to cruise.
The Jayhawks did an excellent job of taking care of the basketball, only turning it over 11 times against a defense that forced over 20 per game during the season.
“Overall, I thought we did a good job,” Schneider said. “We knew we had to take care of the ball; to look and see 11, I would’ve taken that before the game.”
Kansas secured an 86-72 win and will move on to the second round of the WNIT. The Jayhawks will reignite the Border Showdown as they will take on Missouri in the second round. Tip-off is set for 6:30 on Mar. 20 in Allen Fieldhouse.