BOULDER, Colo. — Kansas senior forward Carolyn Davis burst into a grin on the court as the Jayhawks’ band broke into the Rock Chalk chant. Colorado had already conceded the NCAA women’s basketball tournament first-round game in its home gym, pulling key starters with 45 seconds left.
By NATALIE MEISLER
Special to The Star
KU’s 67-52 shocker over Colorado was extra special for Davis, Kansas’ fifth leading all-time scorer, who achieved the 1,800-point plateau. The last time KU stunned a higher-seeded former Big 12 foe in the NCAA Tournament, Davis sat in street clothes last March, recovering from major reconstructive knee surgery.
That was when Kansas, seeded 11th, toppled Big Ten newcomer Nebraska in the first round and advanced to the Sweet 16. This time Davis tied teammate Angel Goodrich with a game-high 14 points and also contributed eight boards and two blocked shots as KU, seeded 12th, beat the fifth-seeded Buffaloes.
“Just to get this first (NCAA) win brought me a lot of joy, and to be able to get out there and play and contribute to my team, it just feels great,” Davis said. “To keep going would feel even better. I feel blessed to be able to come back from the type of injury I had and to be able to play this year.”
KU, 19-13, finished seventh in the Big 12 this season but is moving on to a second-round game at 8:30 Monday night in Boulder against No. 4 seed South Carolina, a 74-52 winner over South Dakota State.
“I look at it different as far as getting an upset. I feel like we played ourselves into a 12 seed,” Davis said of the Jayhawks’ stumble down the stretch.
After KU reversed the initial 10-point deficit by halftime, the Jayhawks scored the first three baskets of the second half for a 43-27 lead. From there, the KU win was a foregone conclusion.
“We showed great poise and composure,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We just chipped away and chipped away.”
Colorado had planned to play host to the NCAA first- and second-round games around Linda Lappe’s rebuilt program. Instead of a Sweet 16 run, the 19th-ranked Buffs ended its first NCAA tourney since 2004 with a 25-7 record. Colorado suffered through a 25 percent shooting night from the floor, including 17 percent when the game got away in the second half.
Fighting back tears, Lappe, an ex-Colorado player, said “You’ve got to give Kansas a lot of credit. They came in, they fought. They were tough. They executed their offense very well. We didn’t have enough on the defensive or offensive end tonight to be able to pull it out.”
In danger of watching the Buffs seize control early, KU maintained its poise. Late in a 13-2 run, Markisha Hawkins delivered a go-ahead three-pointer for a 24-21 lead and Kansas never looked back.
“We started off great. We started off just how we wanted to,” Colorado guard Chucky Jeffery said. “Kansas started to calm down and started knocking down shots and we just had to keep defending and they started getting easy looks.”
Kansas’ bid was helped by the absence of Colorado center Rachel Hargis, who suffered a late knee injury and was doubtful all week.
The Jayhawks’ next opponent, South Carolina, is coached by three-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist Dawn Staley, whose Gamecocks, 25-7, finished fifth in the SEC.
Kansas, with its strong alumni following in the Boulder-Denver area (including Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn and men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle) was well represented in the crowd Saturday.
Bohn, a former Jayhawks reserve quarterback, wished his alma mater well despite a crushing weekend with both the Colorado men and women suffering opening-game NCAA losses.