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Moments That Popped: 8th-seeded KU women eliminated by No. 1 USC

Jayhawks fight but fall to Trojans in 2nd round battle in L.A.

6 min read
The Kansas women's basketball team huddles on the floor during their season-ending, 2nd round NCAA Tournament loss at top-seeded USC on Monday night. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Turnovers, too many 3-pointers and too much Juju Watkins.

That’s what did in the 8th-seeded Kansas women’s basketball team during Monday night’s 73-55 loss to top-seeded USC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

In case you missed it, check out our "Postcards from Los Angeles" feature, which tracked the Jayhawks' NCAA Tournament run during the past five days, through the eyes of senior forward Ryan Cobbins.

The loss dropped KU to 20-13 to finish the season, but also was the kind of effort that the three longtime KU super-seniors who have been a huge part of turning the program around could be proud of.

Taiyanna Jackson added another double-double to her sparkling career with 10 points and 18 rebounds. She also crossed the 300-block mark for her career.

Fellow-seniors Holly Kersgieter added 9 points and 7 rebounds and Zakiyah Franklin finished her final game at KU with 6 points.

Jackson ends her Kansas career as the all-time leader in blocks, with 301. She also finishes tied for second all-time in career double-doubles with 41.

Kersgieter, the program’s all-time leader in 3-point makes, did not hit a 3-pointer in this one, but her nine points put her in fifth place on the Jayhawks’ all-time scoring list, with 1,929 points, just ahead of Franklin, who finishes in sixth place at 1,927.

KU’s own star freshman — S’Mya Nichols — was spectacular in her own right, finishing with a team-high 22 points, which helped offset the 28-point game poured in by Watkins, the star USC freshman, who also added 11 rebounds and 5 assists in the win.

The Jayhawks trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, but got the deficit down to 9 by halftime. From there, Kansas closed the gap to a single point (47-46), with a 15-4 run in the third quarter, but USC responded with an 11-0 run over the end of the third and start of the fourth and never looked back from there.

The Trojans (28-5) finished the night with 13 3-pointers on 30 attempts (43.3%) compared to a 3-of-10 clip for Kansas from 3-point range.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from Monday’s 2nd-round NCAA Tournament game between 8th-seeded Kansas and No. 1 seed USC.


• 2-3 zone defense: The strategy change on the defensive end did wonders for the Jayhawks, forcing USC to get a little uncomfortable and leading to all kinds of USC misses, which came after a red-hot shooting start for the home team. The Trojans eventually figured it out — most notably when they put star freshman Juju Watkins at the high post to draw attention and create for herself or others. But until that point, the KU zone was incredibly effective in helping Kansas stay connected and climb back into the game. More important than that, it allowed the Jayhawks to go out the way they succeeded so often this season — by getting stops and taking pride in their defense. It didn’t lead to victory this time, but it certainly helped the Jayhawks prove they belonged.

• Fine at full speed: It wasn’t the most efficient first quarter, but the Jayhawks certainly did not look deterred by the speed of this game. USC came out sprinting and Kansas was up to the task of matching them. Occasionally, that can force teams into a style they don’t want to play and aren’t comfortable operating at. But Kansas looked willing and ready to play the lightning-fast pace without much trouble. Again, they didn’t always score or get great looks out of that tempo, but they also didn’t turn it over a ton either, which tends to happen when teams face USC.

• Jackson showed up: If there was one player on the KU roster who absolutely had to show up for this one, it was super-senior center Taiyanna Jackson. And she did. Jackson grabbed 4 points and 4 rebounds in the game’s first couple of minutes, proving to be a factor on the offensive and defensive end as the Jayhawks tried to settle into the flow of this high-stakes game. She finished the first half with 12 rebounds and closed the game with 18 boards.

• Juju Watkins with 2 first-quarter fouls: After scoring her team’s first 7 points, USC All-American Juju Watkins — a Kobe Bryant clone in the women’s game if ever there were one — picked up two fouls before the end of the first quarter. One on a foul in the paint when KU was on offense and the other on a loose ball call after a miss. That sent her to the bench for the final couple of minutes of the first quarter and at least made her think about the fouls, therein taking a little of her aggressiveness away. She finished the first half with 11 points and wound up with 28 for the game. There’s no telling what would’ve happened if she had been able to stay on the floor and wasn’t at least somewhat discouraged by the early foul trouble.

Faces in the crowd: There were several notable names on hand to watch this one, with Heisman Trophy winners and USC alums Matt Leinart and Caleb Williams in the crowd. USC football coach Lincoln Riley was also in attendance, as was former NBA star John Wall.

KU senior Taiyanna Jackson signals to a teammate during the Jayhawks' 73-55 loss to USC on Monday night in Los Angeles. [Kansas Athletics photo]


• Jayhawks just overmatched: This Kansas team proved throughout the season that it could compete with the best. And the Jayhawks even beat a few of them. But in this one it was pretty clear from the beginning that the Jayhawks were just a step slower, a touch smaller and not long or athletic enough at all five positions to take down the Trojans. That’s not a knock on Kansas. Instead, it’s a tip of the cap to USC, which is loaded with talent and plays with the kind of confidence and swagger that you’d expect a top seed to play with, especially in front of a raucous home crowd.

• 12-0 USC run midway through the first half: Kansas did a great job of hanging in there despite shooting poorly and turning the ball over in the first 10 minutes of the game. But that was not enough for the Jayhawks to maintain contact early. A 12-0 run by USC turned a 12-9 edge by the home team late in the first quarter into a 24-9 early in the second. Several of those points came off of KU turnovers and the Jayhawks were brutalized in that category in this game. USC outscored KU 16-0 in points off of turnovers before scoring 25 points off of 18 Kansas turnovers by game’s end. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, forced 13 USC turnovers but were only able to score 9 points off of them. The Trojans delivered another big run early in the fourth quarter that put the game away. But this one hurt just as much — if not a little more — because it forced Kansas to spend the rest of the night playing catch-up. The Jayhawks never led in this one.

• Too many turnovers: KU coughed it up 12 times in the first half and at some incredibly untimely times throughout the second half, which proved to be far too much for the Jayhawks to overcome. Mistakes happen. But it was the unforced errors that killed KU in this one. Throwing the ball away. Bad passes in traffic. Having the ball wrestled away from them, as well. USC’s size and strength advantage was evident all night and in a lot of areas, but this was definitely one of the biggest.


• Holly’s dime to Jackson: This was one of those “what the, wow!” moments. After racing the ball up the floor throughout the first half, looking desperately to toss the ball ahead to a sprinting Taiyanna Jackson, Holly Kersgieter was not discouraged after a couple of turnovers in those scenarios. Late in the first half, after a USC turnover, Kersgieter caught an outlet pass from Zakiyah Franklin and immediately fired a sweet bounce pass to Jackson through traffic for a bucket that cut the KU deficit to 12. That allowed the Jayhawks to stay in it and also served as notice that they’re pretty skilled, too.

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