As the regular season races toward a fast-paced finish, the Texas women’s basketball team looks to change gears.
Coach Karen Aston said her Longhorns no longer resemble the group that played at an Indy 500-like speed in December and January. Ranked No. 6 in the country and sporting a 21-1 record, Texas is slogging through February, the concluding month of a 29-game regular season.
To back up her point, Aston points to UT’s 78-48 victory over Oklahoma State on Jan. 9 in Stillwater, Okla. Not only did the Longhorns manhandle a good basketball team, they did it while playing an up-tempo style similar to that of Steph Curry’s Warriors.
“We were so active, and our wheels were really turning that night,” Aston recalled. “We’re not playing at the same pace right now or the same level of intensity. I’ve encouraged our players to go back and look at that game.”
This would be a good time for the Horns to recapture the pace that has propelled them to their best season since the 2002-03 team reached the NCAA Final Four. Texas and Oklahoma State have a rematch Wednesday night at the Erwin Center, and Aston hardly expects her team to prevail by 30 points this time.
The 20th-ranked Cowgirls, the only team to own a victory over No. 4 Baylor, have won six straight. OSU (18-4, 8-3 Big 12) has outscored its opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game during that span, which includes two victories over dreaded rival Oklahoma. OSU recently dropped OU 71-69, the Cowgirls’ first victory over the Sooners in Norman since 1998.
With only four home games to go in the regular season for Texas, OSU is arguably the best team that will play in Austin this month. The Cowgirls bring senior guard Brittney Martin, who leads the Big 12 in scoring (21.6) and rebounding (11.1) and is the leading candidate to be named Big 12 player of the year.
So who’s responsible for guarding her?
“The whole team gets the assignment,” Aston said.
“Players can be pretty funny about giving other players props, but our team admires her,” Aston added. “They respect the way she plays the game. What makes her special is that she doesn’t take a play off. She doesn’t get distracted or discouraged just because she misses a shot.”
Texas has four seniors who are aware their time as Longhorns basketball players is limited. Guard Empress Davenport said there is still time, though, for this team to make an imprint that will be remembered long after they leave school.
“Yeah, we definitely think about that,” Davenport said. “It makes us think we have to play every game like it’s our last because it’s coming to an end. We don’t want to have any regrets in the long run.”
One probable change for Texas will be the addition of sophomore guard/forward Ariel Atkins to the starting lineup. Junior forward Brianna Taylor suffered a sprained ankle in the Longhorns’ 65-49 victory over Iowa State on Saturday in Ames, Iowa. Aston said the injury won’t keep Taylor out long, but the coach said Taylor may not play against Oklahoma State.