LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Angel Goodrich made sure Kansas stuck around for a while in its return to the NCAA tournament.
Goodrich scored 20 points to lead 11th-seeded Kansas to a 57-49 win over former Big 12 rival and sixth-seeded Nebraska in the first round on Sunday.
The win is the first in the tournament for the Jayhawks (20-12) since 1999, and the appearance was the school’s first since 2000 - and its first in eight seasons under coach Bonnie Henrickson.
”I’ve been blessed by an administration that supports what we’ve been trying to do,” Henrickson said. ”They recognize what we’re trying to do and that we’re about to turn the corner.
”They believe in what we’re doing and our coaches, our players, our staff and our team.”
The performance also offered a bit of relief after what had been a rough last month for Kansas, which narrowly made the tournament after losing six of its final eight games.
Leading scorer Carolyn Davis injured her knee and was lost for the season in a loss at Kansas State on Feb. 12, and the Jayhawks’ postseason fate was anything but certain after a first-round loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Conference tournament.
Goodrich picked up the slack on Sunday, and she had plenty of help from in the form of 15 points and 16 rebounds from Chelsea Gardner.
”I came out and was just excited about this game,” Gardner said.
Kansas moves on to face third-seeded Delaware and the nation’s leading scorer, Elena Delle Donne, in the second round on Tuesday.
Nebraska (24-9), which left the Big 12 for the Big 10 after last season, was making its return to the tournament after a one-year absence. The school had performed well in reaching the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Purdue, but it hadn’t played since that double-overtime loss to the Boilermakers on March 4.
The stay was a short one for the Huskers, who were just 20 of 61 (33 percent) from the field.
Nebraska’s top two scorers, Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore, were a combined 9 of 39 from the field - including 0 of 14 on 3-pointers. The Huskers were 1 of 19 on 3-pointers overall, with Emily Cady connecting on the team’s only shot from behind the arc.
”Lindsey makes those shots on most days,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. ”We don’t go 1 for 19. We got a lot of looks at the basket. We had open 3s. We had open shots, and we just didn’t make them. We couldn’t knock them out.”
Kaitlyn Burke led the Huskers with 14 points and was one of four players in double figures, with Cady finishing with 10. Moore had 12 on 5-of-21 shooting, while Hooper had 11 and was 4 of 18 from the field, including 0 of 8 on 3-pointers.
”We had open looks but didn’t take advantage of the opportunity,” Burke said.
Kansas didn’t fare much better from the field, finishing 25 of 66 (38 percent) from the field. However, the Jayhawks made the plays they needed to in the final minutes after Nebraska cut the lead to 46-42 after a pair of free throws by Cady.
The Huskers trailed 52-47 after Cady’s 3-pointer, and they appeared to have the momentum after a turnovers by the Jayhawks with 1:19 remaining.
Nebraska followed with a turnover of its own on the other end, one of 15 in the game, and Goodrich responded with a drive and basket on the other end to put Kansas up 54-47.
She followed moments later with a pair of free throws, and Gardner added the final free throw to secure the Jayhawks’ first NCAA tournament win since defeating Marquette in the first round in 1999.
Henrickson took over Kansas in 2004 and had led the school to the WNIT five times in her seven seasons before this one, but she had never taken the Jayhawks to the NCAAs before this year.
”We said, ‘Raise your hand if you made a play,”’ Henrickson said, and everyone in the locker room raised a hand. ”That’s what this time of year is about.”
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