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The S'Mya Diary - Part XI

My freshman year with the Jayhawks, by S'Mya Nichols

6 min read

She’s one of the most highly recruited Jayhawks in KU women’s basketball history and her goals and expectations for her career, this season and this team are sky high.

She also happens to be a native Kansan who joined Brandon Schneider’s program to help take KU women’s basketball to another level.

Join us as we chronicle Year 1 of the S’Mya Nichols era at Kansas and look for new editions of The S’Mya Diary each week throughout the 2023-24 season.

The S'Mya File

Age: 19 | Height: 6-0 | Position: Guard

High School: Shawnee Mission West | AAU: Missouri Phenom

Notable: One of six sisters in her family, Nichols was the nation's No. 5-ranked prospect at her position and rated No. 22 overall in the Class of 2023 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report... She was one of 50 players on the Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year Award watch list and a McDonald's All-America nominee, and she was a member of the 2022 Team USA U18 National Team, which won a gold medal at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship... Scored more than 1,000 points in her prep career while earning several all-state and all-league honors... Committed to Kansas in October 2022, choosing KU over Tennessee, Arizona Oklahoma, Missouri and many others.

We started this, unofficially, with Nichols sharing her thoughts about her first ever Late Night in the Phog. And she has agreed to provide R1S1 Sports with an insider’s look at her first season as a Jayhawk. 

In Part X, we took a look at what Nichols had seen from opposing defenses who have tried to stop her.

In this chapter, we’ll take a closer look at a couple of defenses that could not slow her down, following the Jayhawks’ 58-55 home win over 10th-ranked Kansas State in the Sunflower Showdown and home win over No. 20 Oklahoma on Senior Day.

Her first taste of the Sunflower Showdown did not go that well and the Jayhawks’ 69-58 loss at K-State in late-January.

Not only did Nichols’ team lose but she shot just 3-of-10 from the floor and finished the game with 5 turnovers.

That stat line, along with the way the Jayhawks were received by the pro-K-State crowd in Manhattan, stuck with Nichols and set the stage for one of her best games of the season last Sunday in Lawrence.

“They limited me, definitely on offense. And I felt like I made them feel like they guarded me well, and I just didn’t like that. Today, they did not guard me well.”

No, they did not.

In the 58-55 win at home in the rematch, Nichols finished with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 5 makes in 6 trips to the free throw line.

Nichols credited part of her production to being at home and playing in front of a crowd of 9,007, with two-thirds of those being Kansas fans.

“I feel like KU fans are just one of a kind. It’s a cult and they scream for us. As long as we keep the momentum going, they’ll stay with us.”

“I did not like the fans over there (in Manhattan). They were very aggressive. When we came out, we were immediately booed, and then you’ve got our fans, who are just low-key. They’re cheering for us. You know the difference. It’s all respect to K-State; it’s just KU’s better.”

Nichols made that decision early in her prep career. She said her only contact with the K-State program came on an unofficial visit to Manhattan with her AAU team.

“Everyone went. So, it wasn’t like anything official or real. As I grew older and really understood the recruiting process, it was just always KU.”

Nichols has played in rivalries before, of course. She cited Shawnee Mission West vs. Shawnee Mission Northwest during her freshman year as one of the biggest. West won that game. And also pointed to a senior year showdown with Shawnee Mission South that she lost.

“Just the atmosphere is so much fun. Everyone’s screaming.”

The Sunflower Showdown — both at home and away — is far different than either of those high school rivalries. And Nichols said she was thrilled to now be a part of the in-state rivalry and to have a win under her belt against the Wildcats.

“I had imagined it, but this was reality. And we delivered.”

“It felt great. We worked so hard, practiced intense and we definitely followed the game plan. We remembered every play that they ran and we guarded it how we were supposed to. The game came down to the little things, playing defense, getting loose balls, getting rebounds. And before the game it was all about the little things, too – drinking water, going to bed early, taking care of your body. We all stuck to what we needed to win the game because it’s our home court. We never thought about anything outside of that.”

The fun continued a week later, in the same building, on KU’s Senior Day, in another must-win type of game against a ranked opponent.

Nichols was equally as up for that one. In fact, she poured in a career-high 29 points against the Sooners, taking over the game during stretches in the second half to ensure that the Jayhawks both sent out their seniors on a good note and picked up a huge win for their NCAA Tournament hopes.

“Before the game, I was crying because of our seniors and I was just amped up. I wanted to get that one for our seniors, especially with it being such a big game against the conference champions. It meant a lot.”

For the second weekend in a row, Nichols also had redemption on her mind. In late-January, in a 5-point loss at OU, she finished with 15 points but shot just 5-of-13 in the game.

“Again, I feel like I made them think they guarded me well and I wanted to change that.”

Rather than force the issue in the rematch, though, she used her mind as much as her might.

“I just let it come to me and it came great, I guess. I feel like I did a good job closing the game, I did a good job starting the game and it was important. We had to give everything we had.”

Those wins, in huge moments, helped KU finish the regular season at 18-11 overall and 11-7 in Big 12 play after an 0-3 start back in January.

“The beginning of the year was hard. We were figuring things out. But don’t count us out. We had a rough start. That’s our bad. But we finished it right.”

And now it’s on to the postseason, where Nichols will get her first taste of do-or-die basketball at the college level.

The Jayhawks are the 7 seed at this week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City and they’ll take on No. 10 BYU at 5:30 p.m. Friday night at T-Mobile Center.

Check out past entries of The S'Mya Diary...

• Part I - My first KU media day

• Part II - The lull before the start of the season

• Part III - A look back at my KU debut

• Part IV - Life on the road

• Part V - Disappointment in paradise

• Part VI - Not 1 but 2 career-high outings

• Part VII - Have a holly jolly Christmas

• Part VIII - Frustration gives way to history

• Part IX - Breaking down the Big 12

• Part X - Adjusting to opposing defenses

• Look for Part XII next week, as Nichols and the Jayhawks dive into postseason play.

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