Kansas senior Sade Morris found her shot Wednesday when Kansas defeated Pepperdine 82-63 in Lawrence. Morris had scored a career-high 26 points against Michigan on Nov. 22 but then went the next eight games without reaching double figures.
Coach Bonnie Henrickson and the entire team kept encouraging/badgering Morris in recent practices: “Sade, shoot!” And against Pepperdine, it clicked in. She made 10 of 17 shots and had 22 points.
If this is a true break in the ice for Morris, it’s come at a great time for the Jayhawks. They have one more non-conference game – at New Mexico State on Sunday – before they begin the Big 12 slate and attempt to cement a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.
As we start 2010 today, there can’t be any women’s hoops program more ready to say “Good riddance!” to the past decade than Kansas. During that time, the Jayhawks have gone 136-168 overall and 45-115 in the Big 12.
In 2000, the Jayhawks made their ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. They were sent to host site Ruston, La., to play Vanderbilt in the first round, and it was before the opening games at Louisiana Tech that longtime Tech coach Leon Barmore announced he was retiring.
Who could have predicted that day the things that would happen to make the Big 12 look the way it does now? Most just assumed then that Louisiana Tech assistant Kim Mulkey would take over that program. She’d been there for 15 years – surely, we thought, there is no place else she wants to be, since she could have left long before and gotten a head coaching job elsewhere.
Of course, we know how that turned out: Tech didn’t offer Mulkey the security contractually that she thought she’d earned, and she went to Baylor. That ended up changing the balance of power in both the Big 12 and nation. Baylor had never been in the discussion of “elite” in women’s hoops before Mulkey arrived.
In fact, in 2000, Baylor had “battled” with Texas A&M to be the most irrelevant team in the Big 12. Baylor “won” that, going 2-14 in the league. Texas Tech, which had won the Big 12 regular-season title in 1998 and ’99, finished in a three-way tie with Iowa State and Oklahoma in 2000. Among the Big 12’s Lone Star State schools, Texas Tech was far superior to Baylor and A&M in 2000 and even well ahead of Texas.
It’s not like that in 2010. Tech, which made 16 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 1990-2005 and won a national championship (’93), is in a four-year absence from the Big Dance. And Tech is now fourth on the Big 12’s Texas totem pole.
However, no Big 12 women’s hoops program had so precipitous a fall in the past decade as Kansas. A 71-69 double-overtime loss to Vandy on March 20, 2000, has been frozen a long time now as the Jayhawks’ last NCAA tournament result.
Lynn Pride finished her KU career that season, so everyone knew there would be some drop-off coming. But the Jayhawks still brought back three senior starters for 2000-2001. So nobody really expected they’d have a losing season then, let alone start a decade-long drought from NCAA play.
Several things have contributed to the Jayhawks’ woes. Rival Kansas State got the three best players in the Sunflower State’s prep classes of 2000 (Laurie Koehn, Nicole Ohlde) and 2001 (Kendra Wecker). Adding Megan Mahoney from South Dakota turned the Wildcats into Big 12 and national contenders and energized their fan base.
In 2002, the Wildcats went 11-5 in Big 12 play, while Kansas went a dreadful 0-16. Over the next two seasons, which were longtime coach Marian Washington’s last at KU, the Jayhawks won just five games in the Big 12. Washington retired due to health reasons during the 2003-04 season. And when Henrickson came from Virginia Tech to take over for 2004-05, the Big 12 landscape was very, very different than it had been when the league began in 1996.
Henrickson’s first season at KU, Baylor won the national championship. Oklahoma and Texas had been to the Final Four in 2002 and 2003. The South division of the league had taken control, and it’s remained that way. South teams have won every Big 12 tournament since 2002; in fact, in that time, a North team has made the final just twice (K-State in 2005 and Iowa State in 2007.)
All the Big 12’s Texas schools have different coaches than they did at the end of the 2000 season – and all of them have been to at least one Final Four (although with Texas A&M’s Gary Blair, Texas’ Gail Goestenkors and Tech’s Kristy Curry, that was with their previous programs.) Oklahoma State also added a coach with a lot of previous success when Kurt Budke took over in 2005-06.
The “teams of the 2000s” in the Big 12 are Baylor and Oklahoma. Baylor went 237-66, won a national title and made the NCAA tournament field eight of the nine years since Mulkey took over for 2000-2001. Oklahoma, coached by Sherri Coale since the Big 12’s inception, is the only league team to make the NCAA field every year of the past decade. In that time, the Sooners went 258-77 and advanced to the Final Four twice. Oklahoma won the Big 12 tournament four times and Baylor twice in that stretch.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks under Henrickson have made the WNIT postseason tournament three times, advancing to the championship game last season, but they’ve not finished any higher than tied for seventh in the Big 12.
This season, led by All-American candidate Danielle McCray and Morris, Kansas is 10-2. The Jayhawks begin league play Jan. 9 at Kansas State, and the tables in that rivalry appear to have finally turned back in KU’s favor. Kansas hasn’t won in Manhattan, Kan., since 2001, but is favored to end that skid against a K-State team that is 7-6 and in rebuilding mode this season.
So when Henrickson is encouraging Morris to keep shooting, it’s part of the Jayhawks’ overall push to leave behind the worst decade since the program began way back in 1969. If the upcoming decade indeed brings a change of fortune for KU, nobody is happier to ring in the new year than the Jayhawks.