UConn exposed Texas Monday night.
As a Final Four contender.
Question is, what are the Horns going to do about it?
Are they going to take a near-win over the nation’s best team as fuel to take this season to special places or will they struggle against lesser teams they should work on a nightly basis?
Remains to be seen.
These eyes saw a team capable of being in the mix come the Final Four in Columbus, a team capable of taking it to the rival Baylor Lady Bears in 10 days. Now capable doesn’t always add up to consistency. That’s where coach Karen Aston must do her best work.
Texas head coach Karen Aston complains to an official about a call during a NCAA women’s college basketball game against Connecticut in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas gave us proof of its potential in the 75-71 MLK Day loss. Brooke McCarty, Lashann Higgs, and Ariel Atkins are one of the nation’s top backcourts while posts Jatarie White and Audrey Ann Caron-Goudreau combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds.
Texas put some nice stuff on tape. Now the 14-3 Horns have to show us it wasn’t a case of playing up to great competition. Being a preseason No. 2 is one thing. Giving UConn all it can handle is quite another.
Funny thing about being exposed…the fallout works both ways. Texas showed a national television audience its wares and didn’t back down from a UConn team that’s isn’t nearly as deep as some of its predecessors. The Horns led for 22-plus minutes and actually held a 10-point lead over a team that had beaten its previous opponents by an average of 36 points.
Sure the top-ranked Huskies left a raucous Erwin Center with their 16th straight win to open the season but it came with a great deal of fight from the opposition. The Horns haven’t played their best ball lately but Aston had them ready for a scrap before a crowd of 11,877.
The loss could be labeled as a moral victory but this talented bunch should be past such talk by now. They’re deeper than UConn — which played only six players — and just as talented at key positions. Most important was this: for the the first time since Jody Conradt’s Horns nearly knocked the 2003 Huskies — led by college hoops legend Diana Taurasi — out of the 2003 Final Four in Atlanta, the Horns played with no fear of the best program in college basketball.
The previous three meetings hadn’t been close with two of those losses coming by a combined 72 points in the NCAAs in 2015 and 2016. That also happened to the Breanna-Stewart-led UConn teams that were in the midst of a 76-1 run that included a fourth straight national title.
“There’s no comparison to those teams we had they played against,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “It would have been difficult for any team to beat those teams. This team, we don’t have the size and we don’t have the ability to do certain things we did back then. However I do think it’s a different Texas team we played today. They shot the ball unbelievably well. I think that gave them a lot of confidence and they were able to sustain it.”
Well, sort of. After making four of their first seven three-point attempts, the Horns made only one of their final 14, partly due to Auriemma extending his 2-3 zone and partly due to Texas missing some wide-open looks. That said, the Horns were right there at money time but some uncharacteristic clanks from the free throw line and a late missed layup from Lashann Higgs allowed the upset to slip away.
“We measured ourselves tonight against a really great opponent,” Aston said. “My wish for my team is deciding it’s who they want to be.”
They landed as many punches as they took and nearly pulled off the biggest win of Aston’s head coaching career.
‘Nearly’ is the operative word. Aston and her assistants are now charged with getting a UConn-type effort every game from here on out, be it against fourth-ranked Baylor or Saturday against Texas Tech, which is winless in conference play.
The coaches can only do so much. A team with this quality of senior leadership must take ownership of its own destiny. That’s when title runs happen.
“Tonight showed who we are and who we can be,” McCarty said.
It’s up to Texas. There’s no going back now.
The Horns have been exposed.