It took a victory over old rival Tennessee to breathe life into a Texas basketball team that still aspires to be great.
Sunday’s 72-67 home win over the Lady Vols couldn’t have been timed any better, coach Karen Aston and junior point guard Brooke McCarty said. It was Texas’ last major non-conference matchup before its Big 12 schedule begins Dec. 29 at home against Texas Tech.
The Longhorns (3-4), ranked 16th in the country, have three more games before that conference opener — Thursday night against UT-Rio Grande Valley, Saturday afternoon against UTSA and next Tuesday against New Orleans. All are at home.
On Sunday, Texas blew a 15-point lead against Tennessee, but rallied in the fourth quarter for its most important victory of the young season.
McCarty, who scored 13 points, described the win as a “big step” for the Longhorns, who are 0-4 this season against Top 25 teams.
“We talk all the time about steps we need to make as a new team,” McCarty said. “Sometimes we play well in the first quarter, but not the second. Sometimes we play in the third quarter, but not the fourth. I feel like staying. … Beating Tennessee gives us another piece of confidence.”
McCarty, a preseason All-Big 12 pick, is having the best season of her career. She leads the team in scoring (14.3 points per game), average minutes played (33.3), three-pointers (15) and assists (25). And a pair of freshmen helped pave Sunday’s victory. Forward Joyner Holmes, in perhaps her best all-around game so far, had 12 points and eight rebounds. Jada Underwood contributed a season-high 13 points and four boards.
Out of 344 teams in the country, Texas ranks 16th in rebounding margin, at 11.7 a game. Kelsey Lang leads the team with an average of 6.6 per game, and her 2.4 blocked shots a game ranks 33rd nationally.
“Our team fought through the adversity of (Tennessee) coming back on us, and that’s been an Achilles heel for the team this year,” Aston said. “Sometimes we get down on ourselves, get discouraged, not help each other out. … We discussed that during a timeout and they really responded well, and that was the difference in the game.”
Guard Lashann Higgs scored most of her 12 points in the fourth quarter to help preserve the victory.
“This was especially good for the freshmen,” said Lang, a senior center. “They now can see that their work in practice is paying off, and that will continue to give them confidence. Obviously we’re going to need them this year.”