Texas' Joyner Holmes(24) scores over Texas Tech's Ivonne CookTaylor(2) during a Big 12 Conference basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Women's Basketball

Four months later, Texas will take second shot at Stanford in Sweet 16

Posted March 21st, 2017

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Story highlights
  • In season opener, Cardinal prevailed 71-59 over Longhorns.
  • After struggling in her college debut, Joyner Holmes rebounded to earn All-Big 12 honor.

Joyner Holmes pulled out her laptop Tuesday to relive her rude introduction to college basketball.

It was a late-afternoon game on Nov. 14 at Stanford, the 2016-17 season opener for the Texas women’s basketball team. Holmes, one of the top recruits in the country, looked like a lost freshman, finishing with more fouls (4) than points (3).

“I talked to my dad (Ron Holmes) the other day, and he told me it looked like I had butterflies in my stomach and my eyes got real big,” Holmes said after a two-hour workout at the Erwin Center.

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Stanford’s 71-59 victory was an eye-opener for the Longhorns, whose roster included five newcomers who had never played a game for Texas.

It’s been four months since that game in Palo Alto — ancient history by college basketball standards — but Holmes said she remembers it “like it happened yesterday.”

Who knew that a rematch would occur during the NCAA women’s tournament? On Friday night, the Longhorns (25-8) and Cardinal (30-5) will battle in a Sweet 16 matchup at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

The outcome of that November contest should have no bearing when the teams meet again, Texas players and Longhorns coach Karen Aston said, yet there were some valuable lessons taken away from that early season defeat.

“I knew we weren’t ready for that game,” Aston said. “I’ve told you a million times I base everything on practice. At the time we played Stanford, we weren’t practicing at a level that would allow us to go on someone’s homecourt and beat a team of that quality.”

Texas had no answer for Stanford junior guard Brittney McPhee, who scored a game-high 28 points. That remains her season-high.

It came as no surprise that the leading Longhorns in the first Stanford matchup were junior guards Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins. McCarty scored 20 points and Atkins contributed 14 points and four steals.

With the victory, Stanford improved its series lead over Texas to 7-4.

Echoing her coach, McCarty said she was not surprised Texas had a tough outing in Palo Alto.

“We were in a rebuilding stage,” she recalled. “We’re a totally different team now. We were trying to find ourselves early in the season. We didn’t know that our identity would be on defense.”

Holmes, for one, responded by putting together a terrific rookie season and earning a spot on the All-Big 12 first team. She ranks third on the team in scoring (12 ppg.) and first in rebounding (8.2).

Yet Holmes was eager to watch film Tuesday of her disappointing collegiate debut. She was looking for mistakes, moments she could have played better.

“I guess the game ended like it was supposed to,” she said. “Not because of the score so much, but how we played overall.”

Aston has repeatedly said her youngest players — namely Holmes, freshman Alecia Sutton and sophomore Lashann Higgs — have improved their practice habits. That has allowed them to play better after grasping Aston’s system.

As for Stanford, the Cardinal rely on a balanced scoring attack led by senior forward Erica McCall (14.3 ppg.), McPhee (13.1) and senior guard Karlie Samuelson (12.6).

Samuelson ranks second in the nation in three-point shooting, hitting 48.3 percent of her shots from behind the arc.

Aston said Stanford’s biggest strength is its experience.

“I thought experience was the difference for us when we last won at Stanford (in 2014),” the coach said. “They had some young players and they were coming off a big win (against Connecticut) and probably didn’t know how to handle that big win. … If you flip it now, they’re the ones with the experience. They’re seasoned and they don’t get rattled.”

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