It has been five seasons since command of the Wichita State women’s basketball team was given to a fiery up-and-coming coach with a top pedigree, complete with the stamped approval of her former coach, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.
Jody Adams expected televised games in Koch Arena. She knew WSU would be playing meaningful basketball in February. She wanted a banner.
None of those things aligned with the history of the program.
Friday night, against a team that had previously owned the Shockers, the Adams administration saw its peak performance, a 66-54 win over Illinois State in front of a raucous crowd of 1,587 at Koch Arena.
Wichita State is first in the Missouri Valley Conference, the 8-0 conference start becoming the best in the program’s history.
“It’s the geniuses we have upstairs in our coaching staff and the game plans they come up with,” senior Jazimen Gordon said.
The remark drew laughs from the coaches, but there is a degree of truth in it.
Instead of playing in standard Valley style, Adams made the league adjust to her style. Instead of recruiting in surrounding states like most Valley teams, Adams recruited nationally.
No one has an equivalent to Alex Harden. And when the sophomore is at her best, as she was on Friday when she posted a stat line of 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals in 40 minutes, Wichita State is at its best.
“She can do so many things and I think because of who she has on her right and left, it allows her to be phenomenal,” Adams said.
Last season, Illinois State ended the Shockers’ 7-0 start in Valley play, which sent them tumbling out of first place.
The Redbirds didn’t play poor. Their streaky shooting turned against them, but they did out-rebound WSU 42-27.
But the Shockers made up by playing the Adams way: By challenging the opposition to a defensive slugfest then proceeding to out-tough, out-grind and out-will them.
After taking a 21-20 lead with 5:36 remaining in the first half, WSU’s lead grew to as many as 12 points and as few as three but it never vanished.
“The pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” senior Darice Fountaine said. “We’re playing for each other and we’re not playing selfish. At the end of the day, we’re getting team wins."
Raising a banner is still far away and not yet certain with only a one-game lead over Creighton. But on Friday night, anything seemed possible.
Adams, though, wasn’t yet ready to celebrate, with a game Sunday against Indiana State to prepare for.
“Twenty-four hours,” she said of how long the elation will last. “Twenty-four hours....”
ILLINOIS STATE (13-7): Jenkins 0-3 2-2 2, Foley 2-6 0-1 4, Russell 7-16 2-2 16, Smith 4-11 0-1 8, Oliver 1-1 0-0 2, Sykes 5-16 2-3 15, Nelson 1-2 0-0 2, Puni 2-2 1-2 5. Totals 22-57 7-11 54.
WICHITA STATE (14-6): Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Diamond 6-10 2-2 15, Jacobs 2-4 1-2 5, Harden 6-11 4-5 17, Turner 0-3 0-0 0, Dapprich 2-9 0-0 4, Fountaine 4-8 0-1 10, Price 0-0 2-2 2, Gordon 5-8 3-4 13. Totals 25-54 12-16 66.
Halftime—Wichita St. 28, Illinois St. 24. 3 pt. shooting—ISU 3-11 (Sykes 3-8, Jenkins 0-1, Foley 0-2), WSU 4-7 (Diamond 1-1, Fountaine 2-3, Harden 1-2, Dapprich 0-1). Rebounds—ISU 42 (Smith 10), WSU 27 (Harden 7). Assists—ISU 12 (Jenkins 3), WSU 11 (Harden 5). Fouls—ISU 16, WSU 15. A—1,587.