LAWRENCE — It’s the kind of story made for a tearful March montage. A mom gets stranded on the highway in a Colorado blizzard, missing her daughter’s first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Two days later, with her mom in the stands, the daughter scores a career-high 27 points as her team records a major upset.
And yes, it’s exactly what happened to Kansas senior wing Monica Engelman, who helped carry the No. 12-seed Jayhawks to a 75-69 victory over No. 4 seed South Carolina on Monday Boulder, Colo. Two days after her mother, Marlene Engelman, spent six hours waiting out a winter storm, Monica Engelman helped propel Kansas to their second straight Sweet 16, where they’ll play No. 1-seed Notre Dame on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.
Marlene Engelman will be at that game as well. But she will not be driving.
“No,” Monica Engelman said. “I wouldn’t allow that. I think she’s gonna try to book a flight and get out as soon as she could. Driving wouldn’t be the ideal situation.”
If the road to Colorado was a little rocky, Monica Engelman’s journey at Kansas has come with some struggles as well. After averaging 12.1 points as a sophomore, the 5-foot-11 Engelman took a step back during her junior season. She averaged 7.5 points, making 39.3 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from the three-point line. As Kansas made its first run to the Sweet 16 since 1998, Engelman’s confidence sagged.
But Engelman has rallied during her senior season, raising her scoring average near double figures and shooting better than 44 percent from the floor. While senior point guard Angel Goodrich and senior center Carolyn Davis collect plenty of praise and accolades, Engelman has quietly scored more than 1,200 points in her career.
“I think there’s room for three great players in a program,” KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “And the thing for her, from a confidence standpoint, she’s worked to get herself back. It’s been well-documented; she struggled last year. But we’re all so proud of her to be able to pull herself up from the bootstraps … and get it right.”
Engelman and her fellow seniors are hoping the road doesn’t end on Sunday against Notre Dame. Last season, the Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to No. 2-seed Tennessee. There are plenty of differences between that run and this latest one. But after Engelman’s career night against South Carolina in the second round, Kansas is confident it has the firepower and experience to play with Notre Dame.
“Her role has changed,” Goodrich said of Engelman. “And I think she has embraced that a lot this year. Being a leader, being a senior, she’s really taken on that role and we’re proud of her.”