The first shot that Kansas senior Holly Kersgieter took this season looked different.
Different good. Different sweet. Different pure. Different vibe.
So did the second. And the third.
So, it was no surprise that all three of them fell through the net as no-doubters during the Jayhawks’ 88-46 win over Northwestern State in the 2023-24 season opener on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kersgieter finished her final season opener at Kansas with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting (5-of-8 from 3-point range), but it wasn’t her point total or the final numbers that stood out, rather the way she looked when she got them.
Kersgieter on Wednesday night appeared to play with more joy and a freer mind than she did at any point last season.
“Not everyone would say that out loud, but, yeah, I would agree,” she told R1S1 Sports after the victory.
“It’s gonna make me emotional to talk about it,” she added. “But everything behind me, I just threw it away and restarted. I don’t know. We needed that. I needed that. The energy and the vibe we had tonight was not even comparable to season openers we've had in the past.”
Part of that is owed to the make-up of this team. It’s a veteran group, sticking together for one more run. And the mixture of this team's confidence, talent and go-for-broke-and-leave-nothing-back attitude is a huge part of the reason that things looked so different on Wednesday night.
There is no longer the fear of failure or the worry about what people will think or have thought and said in the past. There’s just basketball. And team. And fun. And nobody embodied all of those things on Wednesday night better than Kersgieter.
She played free and loose. She smiled furiously on the bench. And the player who has been the heartbeat of this program for years now looked again like someone who was in the exact spot that she wanted to be.
And then there was the moment that the aura and energy she had throughout the night spilled onto the court. Kersgieter’s always been a deadly 3-point shooter. She currently ranks third all-time on that list, with 213, and is just 24 shy of owning KU's career record. But now she’s out there catching lobs, too, with head coach Brandon Schneider drawing up plays for her to do just that.
The lob she finished in the air at the rim off of a pass from Zakiyah Franklin early in the third quarter was Kersgieter’s only non-3-point attempt of the night. And she was still smiling — and laughing — about it after the victory.
“It was just one of those things we kind of threw into practice and I was like, ‘Brandon would never run that for real,’” Kersgieter said of the lob play run specifically for her. “But in a game like this, we thought it would be perfect. I was excited. He said the name (of the play) and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Kersgieter credited longtime friend and teammate Franklin for a perfect pass and said that knowing Franklin is the one throwing the lob, “helps me feel confident.”
“It wasn’t nervousness. It wasn’t oh my God, I’m gonna mess up and look stupid. It was just like, OK, now we’re running lobs, like, this is for real,” she said, laughing. “I like it because it’s so unexpected. I don’t think you would expect someone who just hit three 3s to get a lob. It was just a lot of fun.”
It also was significant in the history books. The two points that came from that lob moved Kersgieter into a tie for 10th place on KU’s all-time scoring list. By game’s end, she had the spot all to herself, with 1,576 career points.
“Who would’ve ever thought that a lob would get me into the top 10,” she joked after Wednesday’s victory. “That’s insane.”
With an entire season still ahead of her, Kersgieter has a legitimate chance to climb into the top five on KU’s all-time scoring list by the time she’s done.
But that won’t change her approach one bit. If it comes, it comes. And she’ll take it.
What she’s far more concerned about is that this team wins as often as possible. That’s a common theme throughout the roster, and it’s a big reason that this particular Kansas team has its sights set on accomplishing things that have never been accomplished by the program.
Wednesday night was fun. They set a record for most 3-pointers made in a single game in program history, with 16. They threw lobs to one of their best 3-point shooters. And they won by 42 points and looked sharp doing it.
But that one’s in the past now. For Kersgieter and all of her teammates, it’s all about pushing forward from here.
“We’re excited,” she said. "And, for our game coming up, we don’t change anything. We take how we approached this and you go into every opponent like that. And I think, you know, we’re just having fun. When you tell us, ‘Hey, we’re going on the road to play another Power 5 opponent,’ everyone just looks at each other and we’re like, ‘OK. That’s next.’”
KU will travel to Penn State on Monday to take on the Nittany Lions at 5 p.m. central on the Big Ten Network.
Penn State finished 14-17 a season ago but added five new players from the transfer portal in the offseason. The Nittany Lions play a fast-paced, up-tempo, aggressive style of basketball and knocked off Bucknell, 94-51, in their season opener earlier this week.
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