The first few chapters of the story of Texas’ basketball season have featured a few twists and turns.
Thanks to a 69-64 upset over Stanford on Dec. 22, Texas already has its signature win. The Longhorns also have beaten a ranked Tennessee team on the road and have scored 90 points twice at home. But they also have been thumped by North Carolina State and Arizona, teams that are currently ranked ninth and 18th in the country.
And now the real fun begins.
Texas (8-4), ranked 25th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, opens its Big 12 schedule on Friday at home against TCU (9-2).
“It’s just like it’s a Stanford-, N.C. State-, Tennessee-type of game every night,” senior Jada Underwood said of what to expect. “It can be anybody’s game, so we’ve just got to work hard and play like it’s our last, every game.”
Texas has one of the country’s toughest schedules this season. So far, UT’s opponents are a combined 99-51; the teams remaining on the schedule are 174-42. Combined, Texas opponents’ winning percentage ranks No. 6 out of 351 Division I teams.
The Longhorns closed out non-conference play with four straight wins. Both Stanford and Tennessee were undefeated when Texas beat them; the Cardinal were ranked No. 1 at the time, Tennessee 17th. Texas also posted a 13-point win over an Ohio team that was picked to win the Mid-American Conference.
In each of those wins, the Longhorns trotted out the same lineup. Underwood has been joined by fellow guards Sug Sutton and Celeste Taylor and forwards Joyner Holmes and Charli Collier. That same lineup started against Arizona on Nov. 17.
Head coach Karen Aston said the current group is the team’s best defensive lineup. She added that Higgs, who is averaging nine points per game, has settled into a sixth-man role but remains an option to start.
“I don’t know how important (that lineup consistency) is,” Underwood said. “At the end of the day, if we all do the things we are know how to do, whether we’re in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, as long as we do the things we know we’re supposed to do, then I don’t think it makes a difference.”
Aston concedes that a lack of depth among UT’s bigs is the “obvious elephant in the room.” Joyner and Collier are the only players taller than six feet on the roster. The same concern doesn’t really apply to who Texas plays on the wings and in its backcourt.
Sophomore guard Joanne Allen-Taylor is averaging 19.5 minutes per game after recording only five 15-minute games last season. Freshman guard Isabel Palmer has become a regular contributor off the bench. Audrey Warren, who is listed as both a guard and forward, is back after missing the season’s first 11 games with a concussion.
“It’s really based off what the team needs at the time,” Higgs said. “You never know who’s going to bring it.”
Texas is 44-3 all-time against TCU, but the Horned Frogs did record a win in Fort Worth in 2018. Aston noted TCU’s three-point shooting and ability to create turnovers. In the preseason, TCU fit into the Big 12 preseason poll’s eighth slot. Prognosticators picked Texas to finish second.
Like Texas and TCU, all of the Big 12’s teams currently claim winning records. Kansas and Texas Tech are undefeated but unranked. Texas was joined in this week’s poll by No. 6 Baylor (10-1) and No. 19 West Virginia (10-1).
“If you just did the eye test, just based on the fact that I do think the non-conference schedules were better for some, you would think that this is a more balanced league,” Aston said. “You would think that from top to bottom, this may be the best we’ve been in quite some time. I think it’s going to be a dogfight every night.”