Texas Jatarie White, (40) pulls down an offensive rebound against West Virginia Teana Muldrow, (11) as Ariel Atkins, (23) left, looks on during the first half of NCAA college basketball game, Sunday Dec.31,2017, in AUSTIN, Texas. Texas defeated West Virginia 79-58. (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN / For Rodolfo Gonzalez)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas women B-dominant in home opener

Posted December 31st, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Texas coach Karen Aston loves her team's speed and depth and maturity but still sees a long way to go.
  • "Twenty-three offensive rebounds for Texas. Any question," summarized West Virginia coach Mike Carey
  • The Longhorns are a heavy guard-centric team, but Jatarie White and crew are holding their own down low.

Karen Aston doesn’t grade on the curve.

Texas Rellah Boothe,(33) grabs a rebound as West Virginia Teana Muldrow, (11)and Destiny Harden, (3) defend during the second half of NCAA college basketball game, Sunday Dec.31,2017, in AUSTIN, Texas. Texas defeated West Virginia 79-58. (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN / For Rodolfo Gonzalez)

So when the Texas women’s basketball coach was asked to assign a grade to her team’s performance against West Virginia on Sunday afternoon, she paused and said, “I would say a B-minus. Why? Because of our turnovers and shot selection.”

If that sounds a bit harsh, B-lieve her. She won’t accept a season-high 24 offensive turnovers or 4-of-17 shooting behind the line. And she sure isn’t going to kill this team with kindness, even if she does appreciate its floor burn hustle and improving maturity as well as its tremendous depth.

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She gave them a decent grade despite an impressive, winning performance in which they led at one point by 30. But Aston knows if she wants to push this 11-1 team to a level it hasn’t been in decades, the players can’t settle for being good. It’s got a ways to go.

Texas won’t win its first national championship since 1986 with a complacent coach or a satisfied team. The Longhorns won’t get to a Final Four for the first time in 15 years unless they are driven to maximize their considerable potential, and Aston realizes it.

They’re off to a solid 2-0 start in league play, but Aston’s still only 1-11 against nemesis Baylor in her Texas career and has to worry about ranked Oklahoma State on Wednesday and the ultimate measuring stick — powerhouse UConn — on Jan. 16 in a Monday showdown.

For now Texas has shown glimpses of a versatile, mature team that rebounds with a vengeance, pushes the ball in transition and plays energetic, active defense that denies good looks at the basket. It’s primarily a guard-centric team with athletic guards galore like improving Lashann Higgs and Ariel Atkins and future point guard Sug Sutton, but it starts with reigning Big 12 Player of the Year in senior Brooke McCarty. She’s the club’s lone superstar who is so dynamic she had a career-best nine rebounds and tied up 6-footer Naomi Davenport on one possession in addition to some sharp passes.

So is Aston thinking of moving the 5-4 point guard to post?

“I’m thinking really heavily about it,” Aston said playfully. “Then, should I let Jatarie (White, a 6-4 post) play point guard?”

McCarty’s versatile, but that might be pushing it. She gets plenty of help on the boards from the nation’s fifth-best team in that department, in particular from White who is playing well down low.

That said, Joyner Holmes, last years Big 12 Freshman of the Year, is just coming off a semester-long, academic suspension and isn’t close to being in basketball shape after playing just 12 total minutes in the last two games. The Longhorns will need her to eventually morph back into the Joyner Holmes of last season to become a formidable presence in the tournament, and she’ll have to start that process with dedicated work time in practice. If not, she’ll get left behind by others who are making their mark down low.

“I think she has to take one day at a time,” Aston said. “The most important days for Joyner are in practice. She really needs to take every advantage of every practice rep. As soon as that brain clicks to that, she’ll start to make progress.”

In the meantime, freshman Rella Boothe, a terrific low presence with strong hands and great feet, is catching fire and fast becoming a crowd favorite. The lefty had a pair of threes on Sunday to electrify the audience. Throw in hard-working Olamide Aborowa, Jordan Hosey and Audrey Caron-Goudreau, and the Longhorns front court is proving it’s no liability.

To be a serious contender in March, Texas must have solid play in the paint as on Sunday when it outscored West Virginia by 28 points there and grabbed a scary 63 rebounds.

As Mountaineers coach Mike Carey said in his opening remarks, “Twenty-three offensive rebounds (for Texas). Any questions?”

Aston’s known to be a serious taskmaster, which is why her Longhorns still didn’t receive an A grade for beating an unbeaten, ninth-ranked opponent by 21 points at the Erwin Center in Texas’ Big 12 home opener.

Texas didn’t always play well in its lopsided 79-58 win over a now 13-1 Mountaineers that are still missing two of their high-profile starters and big-time scorers in 6-3 forward Kristina King and guard Tynice Martin because of injury. To quote Carey, “We’ve got half our team not playing, but that’s no excuse. They are a lot more physical and wanted the ball more than we did.”

The Horns are showing all kinds of want-to. And they have such a loaded bench, 10 got on the floor in the first quarter alone.

Their upside is high.

“We’re faster. We can shoot better. We are more mature,” Aston said. “The leadership is really good. If we continue to work in practice the way we have the last couple of weeks, we can continue to improve,” Aston said. “We have some depth that should come in handy. It did today. As we continue to grow as a team, we have a chance to continue to be successful.”

And maybe even get an A grade someday.

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