When a fire loses its heat source, it extinguishes.
When the University of Kansas women’s basketball lost senior guard Jessica Washington to a torn ACL last month, any chance that the team had of improving from last year seemed to be snuffed out completely. After all, Washington wasn’t just the team’s top returning scorer. More times than not, she seemed to be the only source of life in what was another poor season in year two of the Brandon Schneider era.
On a team that averaged only 62 points last season, Washington accounted for more than a third of the team’s scoring in conference play. Eight players departed the program and seven new players joined the squad, which isn’t ideal from a chemistry standpoint. Who would take over with Washington out? Would anyone take over?
However, head coach Brandon Schneider has a successful track record of turning programs around, and some way, somehow, this season seems to be a promising product – at least for the time being.
Currently sitting on a five-game winning streak to open the 2017-2018 campaign, the Jayhawks’ blazing start has not only given the program its longest winning streak in five seasons, but also something even more – hope.
Despite not having a go-to player like Washington, the team has found strength in numbers. With eight different players consistently seeing meaningful minutes and – more importantly – producing, this could possibly be one of the deeper teams the program has had in a long time.
Junior guard Kylee Kopatich personifies the team as a whole. The one-dimensional three-point threat of last year has evolved into a much more all-around player – similar to how the team has found success by not relying on one player night in and night out. Kopatich is shooting over 50% from the field. Her all-around play has made her a better go-to player than Washington was last season, who was wildly inefficient and shot only 34% as the focus of the offense.
But while Washington was the only player to average double digits in scoring last year, two other Jayhawks – Cristalah Lyons and Brianna Osorio – are scoring in double digits and providing a supporting cast that the team lacked last season.
Despite a slim frame standing at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Lyons plays like a bulldog and has shown no fear driving against bigger opponents. She may have trouble down the line against bigger teams, but for now is proving effective enough along with the hot-handed Osorio to take the pressure off Kopatich.
With a more complete roster in hand, the women’s basketball team will be one of the bigger storylines to follow as the season progresses. It’s hard to pass judgement when they haven’t faced a true test yet, but it’s even harder to overlook one of the strongest starts in the past decade. They’ve done enough to rekindle the fire, for now.