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Finally at full strength, No. 9 Texas to look for consistency with Texas Tech in town

Texas head coach Vic Schaefer picks up the shoe belonging to Longhorns guard Aliyah Matharu during the 83-43 win over Idaho on Dec. 11. The Longhorns host Texas Tech on Wednesday.

A few times this season, Texas coach Vic Schaefer has told a story about the time the newcomers in his basketball program took on the team’s veterans.

Freshmen Rori Harmon, Kyndall Hunter, Aaliyah Moore and Latasha Lattimore were joined by Mississippi State transfer Aliyah Matharu as they beat five of their new Texas teammates in a game called Longhorn. The next day, the two sides scrimmaged again and the new kids were again victorious.

"And (they) won it in a landslide," Schaefer quipped on Dec. 3.

That quintet of newcomers — Harmon, Hunter, Lattimore, Matharu and Moore — has yet to play a single minute together in an actual game. And it's not like Schaefer is reserving that landslide lineup as a secret weapon. He just hasn't had many opportunities to play those five newcomers at the same time.

Injuries, illnesses and inconsistencies have limited the options. The Longhorns have still won 10 of their 11 games, and UT recorded a 62-51 win over Oklahoma State in Sunday's Big 12 opener. But has No. 9 Texas really gotten a feel for its potential?

Texas coach Vic Schaefer has had to deal with a number of injuries to his players, particularly some intriguing newcomers to the team this season. Still, the Longhorns are the No. 9 team in the country, the program's highest national ranking since the 2017-18 season.

"Consistency is what you're always striving for as a coach," Schaefer said this week. "Those better teams that I've had, it's making sure they know what time the bus is loading and where it's loading from. When that's all you're worried about as a coach, you've got a heck of a good team. It's not about are we gonna have to go play great tonight. Hey, if we're just gonna play and play our game, we're gonna be fine. We're gonna win.

"The consistency piece is the challenge right now because we have had so many variables, obviously, that's happened during the course of the season."

Back on Nov. 9, Texas opened the season with a 131-36 victory over New Orleans. The 131 points were the second-most in school history. The margin of victory was exceeded only by a 135-37 blowout of Centenary in 2000.

In the 95-point opening romp, Texas played 13 scholarship players and walk-on Anissa Gutierrez. In the 10 games since, Texas has been unable to empty its bench in a similar fashion.

After knocking down seven 3-pointers against New Orleans, Hunter played only three minutes in Texas' next game at Stanford. She missed the following five games with an ailing ankle. A three-time starter as a freshman, Moore hasn't played since she injured her ankle in the second quarter of the third game.

Forward DeYona Gaston (two games) and guard Kobe King-Hawea (eight games) have been sidelined for various reasons. Coming off a knee injury in high school, Lattimore is adjusting to life as a freshman, averaging 13.6 minutes per game. Backup point guard Ashley Chevalier left the team and entered the transfer portal last month. And the Longhorns canceled a nonconference game last week against Alcorn State because of COVID-19 protocols within the program.

"I don't know that I've (ever) had these types of injuries pop up like we've had this year," Schaefer said. "It is unique for sure."

Texas guards Joanne Allen-Taylor and Shay Holle celebrate a basket against Idaho on Dec. 11.

On Tuesday, Schaefer opened his press conference by reporting that all 13 of his players had participated in the prior day's practice. Schaefer said it had been more than seven weeks since he didn't have at least one nonparticipant at a workout.

While watching the Longhorns practice on Monday, Schaefer thought to himself that "we could be pretty good." Under Schaefer, players have consistently noted how competitive practices had become. When asked in November if their practices were harder than games, senior center Lauren Ebo and sophomore guard Shay Holle pointed in unison to the former.

"Practices are definitely harder than the games," Holle said. "That's the goal."

More:No. 9 Texas welcomes Texas Tech for its first game at Erwin Center in nearly four weeks

Monday and Tuesday's practices will prepare the Longhorns for a home game against Texas Tech on Wednesday night. The Lady Raiders (7-5, 0-1 Big 12) have lost three straight games.

Schaefer pointed out Tuesday that like UT, Texas Tech also has struggled with an inconsistent lineup. All-conference guard Vivian Gray has only played in four games this season, but she did have 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Sunday's 97-91 loss at Oklahoma.

"They are really, really talented and have a really good team and they're just now getting all their group together," Schaefer said. "They're just going to get better and better as the season wears on."