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An emotional outing, a big bounce-back & a school record

6 min read

Every week we take a look back at the performances by KU athletes that were above and beyond.

From football to volleyball, cross-country, and all across the athletic department, we'll break down the best of the best in the world of Kansas athletics.

Performance #1: Junior forward KJ Adams

Background: Dec. 1 against Uconn

What happened: No. 5 Kansas hosted the reigning national champion, No. 4 Uconn Huskies on Dec. 1 in a game where the Jayhawks needed every bit of effort K.J. Adams gave. Adams scored a season best 18 points while adding five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal to his night, as Kansas narrowly took down the Huskies 69-65.

UConn’s Tristen Newton went nuclear in Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, making the most of his shots from behind the three-point line. Newton scored a game-high 31 points, draining a career-high six threes against the Jayhawks, nearly scoring half of the Huskies’ points for the game.

Newton kept UConn within striking distance until the very end, but with just one other double-digit scorer for the Huskies, Kansas pulled away for the four-point victory. Graduate senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr scored a team-high 21 points with five rebounds and a steal, while senior center Hunter Dickinson scored 15 points and racked up nine rebounds and four blocks while making 3-4 three-point attempts.

Why it’s so great: This game meant just a little more to K.J. Adams. His mother, Yvonne Adams, passed away back in November after a battle with cancer, and the celebration of her life was scheduled for Dec. 2, the morning after KU’s bout with UConn.

Adams stayed with the team to take on the Huskies. After he dropped a season-high in scoring and a much-needed performance to help the Jayhawks take down the Huskies, KU coach Bill Self spoke highly about Adams and his level of play on a very emotional day for the junior forward.

Per Self, in a video that surfaced from the locker room after the game, Adams showed what it’s like to be a “winner”, showing up when he was needed most against UConn.

The win helped propel Kansas back to the No. 2 spot in the AP Top-25 poll, with No. 1 Purdue, No. 3 Marquette, and of course, No. 4 UConn, all losing over the weekend. The Jayhawks already have three wins against Top-25 teams in the country, with a loss against the Marquette Golden Eagles, in their first eight games of the season.

Kansas center Taiyanna Jackson celebrates a big play in the Jayhawks' recent win over Southeastern Louisiana at Allen Fieldhouse. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #2: Super-senior center Taiyanna Jackson

Background: Nov. 30 against Southeastern Louisiana

What happened: After narrowly losing to No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 5 UConn in the Cayman Islands Classic, the Jayhawks traveled back home to host the Southeastern Louisiana Lady Lions. Kansas picked up a much-needed victory to push itself to 3-3 on the year, winning 67-56 at home.

Taiyanna Jackson had herself the best game of the season, putting up 22 points and 13 rebounds, both season highs for Jackson. Jackson added two blocks, two steals and an assist to the day to help give the Jayhawks their first win in nearly two weeks.

Freshman guard S’Mya Nichols chipped in with 16 points and two assists, while super-senior guard finished as the last Jayhawk in double figures with 11 points. Kansas managed to win the game after being outscored 27-8 in bench points and 32-24 in the paint.

KU scored four more three pointers than the Lady Lions while getting to the line 23 times, converting 19-23 free throws compared to just eight free throw attempts for Southeastern Louisiana.

Why it’s so great: Jackson’s best game of the early season came at a perfect time as the Jayhawks were on a two-game losing streak. Kansas fell just one-point short to Virginia Tech while losing by eight points to the Huskies the very next day.

Jackson was dominant in the paint, scoring 16 of the Jayhawks’ 24 paint points and shot more free throws than Southeastern Louisiana did in the game. The Lady Lions simply didn’t have an answer for Jackson as she finished with her season high in both points and rebounds.

Picking up their third win of the season, head coach Brandon Schneider knew what this win meant to the team, especially after playing two tournament teams the previous week.

"I think it really helped that we played such a good opponent today in terms of preparation. Southeastern was in the NCAA Tournament a year ago and they won their league. Every loss they have this season was to an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago, so I think it helped knowing that we were playing somebody that was definitely good enough to beat us if we didn't prepare the right way."

After knocking off Houston Christian on Wednesday to get back to .500, the Jayhawks (4-4) will head to Wichita this weekend to take on Wichita State at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Performance #3: Graduate outside hitter Reagan Cooper

Background: Dec. 1 against Penn State

What happened: The No. 4 Jayhawks opened their NCAA Tournament hosting Omaha for the first round of the postseason. Kansas swept Omaha 3-0 on Nov. 30 to advance to the Round of 32 to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.

The Nittany Lions put an end to the Jayhawks’ season, winning a 3-2 thriller to advance to the Sweet 16 of the tournament.

Despite the loss for KU, Reagan Cooper ended the season with an incredible performance against Penn State. Cooper racked up a whopping 29 kills on 56 attacks, finishing with a .464 hitting percentage and just three attack errors in the five-set match.

Junior opposite hitter London Davis finished with 13 kills, with junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady and graduate middle blocker Mykayla Myers adding eight kills each. KU just outhit the Nittany Lions, ending with a .294 hitting percentage compared to Penn State’s .292. Penn State’s 11 blocks and three more kills than Kansas proved to be the difference in the match as the Nittany Lions advanced to the next round of the tournament.

Why it’s so great: After five sets, Cooper finished with a match-high and career-high 29 kills, which matches the Kansas school record set by Marina Garlington against Iowa State back in 2008. In the Jayhawks’ biggest game of the season up until that point, Cooper made the most of the moment and gave it her all for her team.

Cooper finished just five kills behind Elnady for team lead in kills on the season, ending with 363 kills and a .346 hitting percentage on the year. Cooper led the Jayhawks in kills per set with 3.86 per set, playing 13 less sets than Elnady this season.

KU’s season ends with a 24-6 record, racking up a 14-1 home record on the year, with the one loss being the most recent against Penn State. Kansas went 14-4 in Big 12 Conference games and 3-1 on neutral courts, proving why it was a Top-25 team in the country.

Although Kansas’ season came to a close with a loss to Penn State, head coach Ray Bechard had high praise for his team for their efforts all season long.

“That was two hours and 40 minutes of really good volleyball, and it was really an honor to be part of that with this team. Congratulations to Penn State for moving on. I think we just need to reflect on a moment and all the joy and enthusiasm and good times that this team has given us. It felt more like an Elite Eight or Final Four match tonight than it did a second-round match. So, I couldn’t be prouder of our group.”

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