Karen Aston’s roster includes six Longhorns who have never played a Big 12 basketball game.
Stakes are higher in league play. Every opponent considers Texas a rival. Battle-tested after playing four teams ranked among the top 11 in the country, the Horns will be challenged in one of college basketball’s best conferences.
The fun begins when Texas Tech (8-3) meets Texas (6-4) Thursday at the Erwin Center.
“We’ve been talking in the last week or two about things we’ve need to do in practice to prepare for Big 12 play,” Aston said after the Longhorns finished non-conference play with an 80-48 victory over New Orleans on Dec. 20.
The holidays are over and it’s time for the newest Longhorns to get their first taste of conference competition.
Freshman forward Joyner Holmes, who struggled early, has come on strong in recent weeks, scoring in double figures in five of UT’s 10 games. She’s also averaged nearly nine rebounds in UT’s last six games.
Freshman forward Jada Underwood also has become a reliable contributor, averaging 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds with a shooting percentage of .559.
The Longhorns have outrebounded all 10 opponents, but Aston said they will have to be better under the boards.
“In the Big 12, we’ll have opponents that really value rebounding, and it’s tough,” she said. “It gets physical and it’s hard to get a rebound. Hopefully some of this mindset will carry over but we need to get more involved. Our guards have not been as involved in rebounding as they need to be.”
Despite those concerns, Texas seems to have made improvement in rebounding this season.
The Longhorns rank sixth in the nation (out of 344 teams) in rebounding margin (13.5 per game). By comparison, the team that finished 31-5 last season ranked 16th in the nation in rebounding margin (9.4 per game).
Aston gave credit to senior post Kelsey Lang and Joyner for “having a presence” in the paint.
Lang has shown recent frontcourt dominance, finishing with double figures in rebounding in five of her last six games. And she has scored in double figures in seven straight games, including a career-high 23 points in the victory over New Orleans.
Lang’s contribution has been magnified in the absence of 6-7 post Imani Boyette, who plays for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky after four successful seasons at Texas.
This will be the last Big 12 go-round for Lang, who set a Texas record by shooting 11-for-11 from the field against New Orleans.
“The Big 12 is really tough and it’s a battle every night, no matter who you’re playing,” Lang said. “So I think that as long as the older girls can get the young ones to realize that, I think that we’ll be just fine.”