'Punched in the mouth' in Big 12 play, No. 13 Texas fights back against West Virginia
Texas senior Audrey Warren did not have a good game Wednesday.
Aliyah Matharu, the Longhorns' junior guard and leading scorer, also wasn't at her best that night. And to be frank, nobody on the UT roster had anything to brag about after an overtime loss at home to Kansas.
Three days later, the Longhorns got a chance to respond.
Warren, who had a strong game after not getting the start, and Matharu, who scored 26 points, paced No. 13 Texas to a 73-57 win over West Virginia on Saturday at the Erwin Center. Texas (12-3, 2-2 Big 12) also was beaten last week by Texas Tech, so the victory helped the Longhorns avoid their first three-game losing streak in conference play since the 2017.
"Nobody likes to get punched in the mouth. It's uncomfortable," Matharu said. "Somebody punches you in the mouth, you want to punch them back. West Virginia was just the next opponent. We wanted to come out and get a win so we could go into our next big game with some type of confidence behind us."
In the leadup to Saturday's game, Texas coach Vic Schaefer promised he'd tinker with his lineup. He explained that "the way some players are playing, it's not acceptable."
Schaefer didn't make wholesale changes. In fact, there was only one difference in Texas' starting lineup from the previous three games. Matharu, who's usually the first option off the bench, got the start. Warren, who had started 13 of the previous 14 games, began the game on the bench.
Warren's benching didn't need an explanation. In the loss to Kansas, she committed a career-high seven turnovers. A 44.6% shooter from the field this season, she also missed five of her eight shots against the Jayhawks.
So when Saturday's game tipped off, Warren sat. For all of 51 seconds.
Less than a minute into the first quarter, Schaefer called for Warren. The 5-foot-9 player can handle multiple positions and checked in for 6-2 forward DeYona Gaston, who had picked up a quick foul.
Warren "is kind of our fix-it-all type player, and so when D got that first quick one, she can go in and battle and play at that position," Schaefer said.
Warren quickly provided a spark for Texas, which missed its first six shots and fell into a 7-0 hole. She scored nine points in the first quarter. By the time her jumper forced a West Virginia timeout with 8:06 left in the second, Texas was up 25-15 and Warren had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
"I just knew that I needed to come in and not have the same type of game that I had against Kansas," Warren said. "Just a little more focus on the court."
She went on to play 30 minutes and finished with a season-high 17 points. Only Matharu provided more offense in the 16-point victory.
Like Warren, Matharu was coming off a forgettable performance. Against Kansas, she scored 11 points and hit a late 3-pointer that forced overtime. But she played only 11 minutes in that game, and three second-quarter fouls led Schaefer to question her effort.
Matharu responded Saturday. Making her sixth start of the season, she had her second-best offensive performance. She knocked down half of her 16 shots and made eight free throws. Defensively, she drew charges on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter.
"She played 37 minutes; she's probably going to sleep pretty good tonight," Schaefer said. "That's the kid I need every night. We've got to have her."
Those two West Virginia charges came in the first four minutes of the second quarter. During that span, the Mountaineers had seven turnovers and didn't attempt a single shot. Texas opened the quarter with a 19-15 advantage and led by 13 points at the end of that run.
The Longhorns eventually took a 39-25 lead into halftime. The margin ranged between 13 and 23 points in the second half.
Texas, which had committed at least 20 turnovers in each of its last two games, had only 14 giveaways.
UT got 10 points and nine rebounds from center Lauren Ebo. Freshman point guard Rori Harmon finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and five steals. She left with trainers after hitting her head on the floor in the fourth quarter. But she appeared at the postgame press conference and joked that she has "a hard head."
Tip-ins: Texas associate head coach Dionnah Jackson-Durrett was not at the game. ... West Virginia (8-6, 1-3 Big 12) got 66.7% of its points from KK Deans and JJ Quinerly, both of whom had 19 points. ... Texas has road games against No. 9 Iowa State and TCU scheduled next. ... UT senior Joanne Allen-Taylor played 39 minutes but was held scoreless for the first time since her sophomore season.