NCAA Tournament

KU savors back-to-back Sweet 16s by men’s and women’s teams

Updated: 2013-03-27T17:15:40Z

By RUSTIN DODD

The Kansas City Star

— Bonnie Henrickson was running on fumes on Tuesday. She had maybe slept for a few minutes the night before, the result of some mechanical issues at a Colorado airport.

But Henrickson, the women’s basketball coach at Kansas, had made it to the office. And here came KU men’s coach Bill Self, strolling past the women’s basketball office in the Wagnon-Parrott Athletic Center adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse.

“Sweet 16!” Self called out.

If Henrickson had any visions of a power nap, those two words were the linguistic equivalent of a shot of Five-Hour Energy.

“Sleep’s overrated this time of year,” Henrickson said.

On Monday night, Henrickson’s Jayhawks, the 12th seed in the Norfolk Region, had upset No. 4 seed South Carolina 75-69 in Boulder, Colo., advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s tournament for the second straight year. They had first upset No. 5 seed Colorado on Sunday in the Buffaloes own gym, and then spent Monday night celebrating in the locker room of the Coors Events Center, just the second No. 12 seed in NCAA women’s tourney history to survive two rounds.

By Tuesday morning, the jolly mood had filtered back to Lawrence, where the basketball programs keep printing out “Sweet 16” T-shirts. Combined with the men’s Sweet 16 appearance this week in the South Regional in Arlington Texas, Kansas is the only Division I school that has produced Sweet 16 teams in both the men’s and women’s programs for the last two years.

“Pretty good,” Self said on Tuesday afternoon, when the statistic was recited to him.

“It bodes well for the commitment and the facilities, and everything that’s going on here. And I can’t see it changing.”

The No. 1-seeded Kansas men, who were off Monday after Sunday’s victory over North Carolina, were back at practice on Tuesday afternoon, preparing for a showdown with No. 4 seed Michigan at 6:37 p.m. Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The KU women, meanwhile, will travel to Norfolk, Va., where they will face No. 1 seed Notre Dame on Sunday.

“Congrats ladies,” KU freshman guard Ben McLemore posted in a Twitter message Monday. “[A]in’t it sweet to be in the Sweet 16. We dancing baby. Both squads.”

Of course, it was a similar story in Lawrence last season, when the KU women, then seeded 11th, rolled off two upset victories and advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 1998. It didn’t take long to return to another — even after an under-whelming regular season.

Henrickson had begun the year with great expectations. Angel Goodrich, an All-American candidate at point guard, had returned for her senior season. And senior forward Carolyn Davis was back after tearing a knee ligament in February 2012. But the Jayhawks stumbled in conference play, finishing 8-10 in the Big 12 and just seventh in the standings.

It led to some anxious moments before Selection Sunday, Henrickson says, but it also helped Kansas feel energized after sneaking into the tourney.

“It’s a little bit of a roller coaster,” Henrickson said. “And in this business, you’d like to stay off the roller coaster. But we were on one for a little bit.”

But for the second straight year, Henrickson engineered a Sweet 16 appearance as a double-digit seed. Maybe the runs are a testament to the Big 12’s depth and talent. Or maybe the Jayhawks are just better when the lights go on.

“Anything can happen,” KU senior Monica Engelman said.

In total, it took Henrickson eight years to make the NCAA Tournament after arriving in Lawrence in 2004. But after the Jayhawks held South Carolina to just 37.5 percent shooting on Monday, her NCAA tourney record is now 4-1 over the last two years.

“They’ve been unbelievable,” Self said.

If there’s a thread connecting the two programs, it’s not hard to spot. While the Kansas men lean on four senior starters, the KU women lead on seniors Goodrich, Davis and Engelman.

“They gotta a lot of seniors that have given their heart and soul to this place,” Self said. “It’s very nice for them.”

On Tuesday, Travis Releford, another senior, stood inside Allen Fieldhouse and talked about playing Michigan. The Wolverines feature sophomore guard Trey Burke and a collection of future pros. And if the Jayhawks want an opportunity to play in their second straight Final Four, they will first have to survive one of the best offenses in the country.

“We know coming into the tournament that defense was gonna be the key,” Releford said.

Of course, the same could be said for the Kansas women, who will face Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, one of the women’s game’s brightest stars. But first, both programs spent Tuesday exchanging text messages and tweets — and savoring in the shared success.

“We’re a family,” Davis said. “And to be able to experience that with them, and to share that, and to make history … it’s awesome.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.

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