DeYona Gaston provides a spark as No. 14 Texas shakes off a slow start and CSU-Northridge
For a few minutes Saturday afternoon, the Texas Longhorns still appeared to be on their Thanksgiving break.
But they shook off a slow start and rolled to an 83-42 win over Cal State-Northridge at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns, who are ranked 14th in The Associated Press' poll, improved to 4-1 with the victory.
Texas is now 3-0 at home. The average margin of victory in those games has been 59 points.
UT will return to the Erwin Center on Wednesday to face a Jackson State program that reached the NCAA Tournament last season. A trip to No. 23 Texas A&M is set for next Sunday.
"I think we're in a good place right now, but there's obviously a lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for us to grow," Texas senior Audrey Warren said.
On Saturday, Texas was playing for the first time since an overtime setback at Tennessee on Nov. 21. And whether the six-day layoff or the post-Thanksgiving tryptophan was to blame, the Longhorns seemed groggy in their return to the court.
After not trailing in its first two home games this season, Texas quickly fell behind a battle-tested CSUN team that had already faced ranked Arizona and UCLA this season. As the Matadors built a 7-0 lead, UT missed its first eight shots and committed two turnovers.
"Unfortunately, that's nothing more than not being ready to go," Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. "There's no way to read that. We had 14 turnovers at half. Just really played miserable in the first half. I was very disappointed at halftime. I spent most of the first half or all the first half conveying my disdain for our lack of energy and effort."
Added Warren: "We weren't knocking down shots early. Instead of attacking, a lot of us just kept trying to make that one."
The Longhorns eventually woke up and held a 20-16 lead at the end of the first quarter. They were up by 13 points at halftime.
As UT took control of the game, freshman guard Rori Harmon inserted herself into the highlight reel with a 3-pointer that beat the first-quarter buzzer. The Texas turnaround, though, was fueled by DeYona Gaston.
The sophomore forward checked in with 1 minute, 55 seconds left in the first quarter. Over the next four minutes, Gaston scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Texas gained a 26-16 advantage after Gaston's fifth basket 141 seconds into the second session.
Schaefer "usually talks about when you get subbed in, don't break what's being fixed. Just play hard," Gaston said. "When I come in, I try to contribute to the team as best as I can or as much as I can."
Gaston finished with a career-high 19 points. A 6-2 forward, Gaston said in her postgame press conference that she was healthy and having fun this season. Gaston was once considered the top recruit in the Class of 2020 before injuries submarined her ranking. She missed much of her freshman year because of a stress fracture in her shin.
Schaefer originally signed Gaston while he was coaching at Mississippi State and she followed him to Texas. On Saturday, Schaefer invoked the name of the Big 12's reigning player of the year when talking about Gaston's potential.
"She's got a little bit of (Baylor senior forward) NaLyssa Smith in her now that she's built like her and she's agile like her," Schaefer said. "She ain't NaLyssa Smith yet but that's where I see her ceiling going. It won't happen if I can't keep her in practice every day. We've been able to do that. She's on a little bit of a run right now."
Gaston was responsible for one of UT's five double-digit point totals against the Matadors. Warren added 13 points, Joanne Allen-Taylor 12, Lauren Ebo 11 and Shay Holle 10.
The Longhorns forced 28 turnovers but gave the basketball away a season-high 21 times themselves. Texas shot just 4-for-16 from behind the 3-point arch and missed six free throws.
"I'm disappointed in our effort and our energy. At the same time, I'm always happy with the win," Schaefer said. "I thought the second half was so much better."
Tip-ins: Jordyn Jackson and Rachel Harvey each scored 11 points to lead the Matadors (2-3). ... Harmon finished with nine points and nine assists. ... Ebo and Warren each grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. ... Texas reserve guard Ashley Chevalier dished out six assists. Chevalier's parents both played basketball at CSUN.