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S’Mya Nichols leads Kansas Jayhawks women’s basketball to upset of No. 10 K-State

Freshman guard S’Mya Nichols recorded her sixth straight 20-point game on Sunday as Kansas upset No. 10-ranked Kansas State 58-55 in a women’s basketball edition of the Sunflower Showdown at Allen Fieldhouse.

With the win, the Jayhawks (16-11, 9-7 Big 12) avenged a Jan. 20 loss to the Wildcats (23-5, 12-4) in Manhattan and added an important highlight to their resume as they chase an NCAA Tournament bid.

Nichols, the product of Shawnee Mission West who has played internationally for Team USA’s youth squads, led Kansas with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

“We knew exactly what we were getting from her as a player in terms of her skill level and versatility,” KU coach Brandon Schneider said of Nichols. “But until you start working with a player, the poise and composure and that side of it, I think she is far beyond her years of experience.”

One of Nichols’ KU teammates — senior guard Holly Kersgieter, playing in her final Sunflower Showdown — helped seal the Jayhawks’ victory.

Kersgieter drained a bucket as the shot clocked expired with 2 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, putting the hosts ahead 53-51. Then she went 3-of-4 at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“Even though the attendance (9,007 on Sunday) was technically less than the NIT, in my head, my first thought was, ‘This is the best memory I have in Allen Fieldhouse,’” Kersgieter said afterward. “Having a home rivalry game this packed against a Top 10 team at a crucial point in the season, I thought, this was the best moment I’ve had.”

The Jayhawks built their lead to as high as 11 points in the opening quarter. They were 3-for-3 beyond the arc to start the game, with Wyvette Mayberry, Zakiyah Franklin and Nichols all draining 3-pointers. Nichols scored nine points in the first period.

But then the Jayhawks fell victim to foul trouble and a scoring drought. The Wildcats, meanwhile, went on an 11-3 run and took the lead in the second quarter.

“I was looking around at one point,” Kersgieter said. “I thought, ‘All the bad things that happened, just forget about it. Enjoy where you’re at.’”

Skyler Gill eventually broke the drought for KU. The Jayhawks limited the Wildcats to close out the first half but still trailed 30-28 at the break.

K-State center Ayoka Lee opened the second half by hitting a jumper; she’d finish with 14 points on 7-of-21 shooting with 11 rebounds. But she didn’t get a lot of help: Lee was one of just two KSU players to score in double-figures (Taryn Sides added 11).

K-State coach Jeff Mittie said Lee still isn’t “100%” healthy yet after injuring her ankle and missing some time — including the Jan. 20 KU-KSU game.

“I think it’s going to take her a couple of weeks to feel around the rim,” Mittie said. “All those things are just tough. … When you can’t simulate it and you’re also trained to rest it, it’s not something that you can bang on all the time right now.”

Nichols sank three consecutive mid-range jumpers in the third quarter and Mayberry drained another 3-pointer, but KU trailed 43-42 entering the final period.

Nichols, Kergeiter and Taiyanna Jackson were the difference down the stretch — Jackson finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots.

“Their defense is a really good gap defense, so I was taking any opportunity that I can get to get downhill, because that’s what I’m best at,” Nichols said. “And it just happened to work.”

The Jayhawks head to Orlando next for their final regular-season road game. They’ll take on UCF (12-14, 3-13 Big 12) on Wednesday.

The Wildcats close out their home schedule Wednesday against Iowa State (16-10, 10-6).