OKLAHOMA CITY — Texas won its Big 12 Tournament opener 71-60 over Oklahoma State Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but there was another score that caught Karen Aston’s attention.
Texas won the battle of the benches, 32-18.
Players and coaches from both teams said Texas had “fresher legs” than OSU. That became evident as role players such as Lashann Higgs (12 points, 3 assists) and Jordan Hosey (10 points, 3 rebounds) found driving lanes through the Cowgirls, who were tired from playing Friday night against Kansas.
The Longhorns will play West Virginia in the tournament semifinals at 4 p.m. Sunday.
As Texas moves forward through the Big 12 — and the ensuing NCAA Tournament — the Longhorns will need a strong contribution throughout the roster.
“One reason is that we always tend to get someone in foul trouble, and I think they recognized that,” Aston said. “Our players stay ready. They work in practice like they have an expectation they’re going to play.”
Texas took control with a 15-0 scoring run during a five-minute stretch of the third quarter. Higgs and Hosey capped the run with a pair of free throws apiece to give the Longhorns their largest lead, 56-35.
Oklahoma State (17-14) would never climb within 10 points down the stretch. The Cowgirls were led by center Kaylee Jensen, who scored 18 points, but she struggled with her shot, hitting just 5 of 18 shots from the field.
Texas used a trio of players to guard OSU’s top scorer — 6-5 Kelsey Lang, 6-4 Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau and 6-3 Joyner Holmes. Those were the same players who limited Jenson to 3-for-19 shooting during a 66-35 victory over the Cowgirls Jan. 10 in Austin.
“Texas gets to me because they’re longer than most other teams in the Big 12,” she said. “I think I try to maneuver too much around them instead of powering to the hoop and that’s something I need to work on.”
In a pregame ceremony, Texas point guard Brooke McCarty was presented a trophy for being named Big 12 player of the Year. If she was nervous about playing Saturday it didn’t show as she hit 6 of her 12 shots from the field for a team-high 13 points.
Texas won almost every statistical category, outscoring OSU 48-18 in the paint, 17-14 off turnovers and 12-0 on fast-break points.
“If you take a bad shot against Texas, it just puts them in a track meet,” Cowgirls coach Jim Littell said. “We had probably six or seven possessions where we let them get out in a hurry. … They wear you down. With their athleticism, you have to put a body on them because we’re not going to win those 50-50 rebounds.”
Lang had one of her most productive offensive games of the season, scoring 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field. Curiously, she did not have a rebound.
Texas won the battle of the boards 42-31. Brianna Taylor had a team-high 8 rebounds as the Longhorns won the rebounding battle for the 27th time in 30 games.
Aston said UT’s defense on 6-3 Cowgirl forward Mandy Coleman was instrumental. Coleman, who scored 22 points in UT’s 85-71 victory over OSU last month in Stillwater, scored 5 points before fouling out.
Texas should be fresh heading into Sunday’s semifinal. McCarty played 31 minutes Saturday, the only Longhorn to play more than 30. Aston substituted freely, giving players such as Alecia Sutton (18 minutes), Higgs (17 minutes) and Caron-Goudreau (17 minutes) time to contribute.
Come 4 p.m. Sunday, they should be ready and willing once again.