It marked the end, but in some ways, it felt as if it was only the beginning.
When the final buzzer of the Kansas women’s basketball team’s 66-50 loss to Texas sounded Saturday in the second round of the Big 12 women’s tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it not only signaled the end of the game, but also that of the Jayhawks’ first season under coach Brandon Schneider.
Schneider and the players were adamant progress is not too far away, though.
“We talk a lot about how you represent yourself, and we talk a lot about toughness and team unity and those things,” Schneider said. “But I do think that the character that our team showed this year, despite a really rough record, is something that, you know, we can build upon as we're trying to establish a certain type of culture in our program.”
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The Jayhawks, 6-25 overall and 0-18 in the Big 12 regular season, showed a glimpse of the team they could be Friday night, when they beat TCU 81-64, ending a 20-game losing streak. The more-talented Longhorns, 27-3 and 15-3 and seeded No. 2 in the tournament, wouldn’t allow it, using their size to dominate underneath.
Even Texas coach Karen Aston was impressed with KU’s growth. The Jayhawks lost their first two matchups with the Longhorns by a combined 71 points, but Saturday’s contest was competitive throughout.
“I thought Kansas played very spirited and carried over their performance last night with a good one tonight, and Brandon should be really proud of his team,” Aston said. “… I thought they were dramatically improved.”
The key to KU’s hope for improvement is its youth. All five of its starters are underclassmen, including sophomore guard Lauren Aldridge, who followed a career-high 23 points Friday with 12 on Saturday.
Three starting freshmen, Aisia Robertson, Kylee Kopatich and Tyler Johnson, combined for 27 points.
A losing season of this magnitude was not something they were accustomed to.
“The season was a battle,” Johnson said. “We just gotta keep our heads up, just keep fighting. Like we showed yesterday and today, we have the fight in us and we just gotta bring that next year.”
The 10th-seeded Jayhawks held a 9-8 lead with 1:13 to play in the first quarter, but 21 seconds later, it was gone. The Longhorns, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, were ahead the remainder of the game.
An early 8-0 Texas run in the second period put some distance between the teams. The Longhorns took a 30-22 advantage into the break, ending the second quarter on a 6-0 run.
The score differential varied between six and 14 in the third period, never quite feeling in reach for the Jayhawks.
Texas opened the final quarter with nine straight points, effectively ending KU’s season and its bid for the upset.
But progress takes time. This season might have been the first step.
“My enthusiasm for what I think we can do at the University of Kansas with our women's basketball program has never wavered,” Schneider said. “We played with a roster that we inherited and the guys played extremely tough all year long.
“I’m excited about our program moving forward.”
Big 12 women’s basketball tournament
At Oklahoma City
Friday’s first round
(9) Texas Tech 89, (8) Iowa State 84
(10) Kansas 81, (7) TCU 64
(5) Oklahoma 61, (4) Oklahoma State 43.
(1) Baylor 82, (9) Texas Tech 51
(2) Texas 66, (10) Kansas 50
(3) West Virginia 74 (6) Kansas State 65
(1) Baylor vs. (5) Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. (FS1)
(2) Texas vs. (3) West Virginia
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (FS1)