As turnover trend worsens at Texas, Longhorns ask freshman Rori Harmon to right the ship
In the final seconds of an overtime loss to Kansas at the Erwin Center on Wednesday, Texas senior Audrey Warren threw away the basketball.
On face value, the turnover was inconsequential. Kansas was putting a bow on a 70-66 victory, and Jayhawk guard Chandler Prater's steal was recorded off an inbounds pass near the UT basket.
In the big picture, however, that turnover was part of a troubling trend for Texas.
The turnover was UT's 23rd in a 45-minute game, a season-high. Three days before the Kansas game, Texas had 22 giveaways in a 93-58 win over an overmatched opponent, UT Rio Grande Valley.
"We've got a real bad turnover epidemic right now," Texas coach Vic Schaefer said.
Texas, the No. 13 team in The Associated Press' poll this week, has been known more for creating turnovers this season. UT's average of 24.43 forced turnovers ranks fifth nationally. And despite the past two games, the Longhorns boast the fifth-best turnover margin in Division I basketball.
"Against Texas, if you're anywhere near being close in the turnover margin, then it really improves your chances to be successful," said Kansas coach Brandon Schneider, whose team also had 23 turnovers against UT.
In its four-point triumph, the Jayhawks turned Texas' miscues into 18 points. They recorded 14 steals, but the Longhorns had nobody to blame but themselves on some of those turnovers. For example, Texas was called for a shot clock violation during the final minute of overtime.
Before Wednesday, Texas had not had a 23-turnover game in its two seasons with Schaefer. Over his final four seasons and 147 games at Mississippi State, Schaefer's team had that many turnovers just twice. The last time one of his teams committed at least 20 turnovers in consecutive games was during the 2015-16 campaign.
In his postgame press conference, Schaefer stressed that Texas needs to finish games with a single-digit turnover total. The Longhorns have done that once this season. In a 76-60 win at No. 17 Texas A&M in December, they had only seven turnovers. They had 10 turnovers in a 61-56 upset of No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 14.
Schaefer said UT must "practice with accountability and consequence" as it addresses this issue. If someone commits a turnover in practice, that player should expect to run the stands.
Going forward, Texas will also lean heavily on point guard Rori Harmon. The 5-foot-6 freshman is averaging 10.9 points and 4.6 assists.
Harmon has committed 34 turnovers, and her 1.91 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks seventh in the Big 12. A seven-assist performance against Kansas snapped Harmon out of a five-game funk in which she had only nine assists.
"In practice, I'm just going to have to start being more direct and aggressive with what I say," Harmon said. "I have my turnovers, too. I've just got to be smart in practice. I've got to take risks in practice so I can see what I can and can't do in the game."
Since sophomore Ashley Chevalier entered the transfer portal last month, Texas lacks depth behind Harmon, although shooting guards Joanne Allen-Taylor, Aliyah Matharu and Kyndall Hunter can handle the basketball if needed. But Allen-Taylor, a senior, believes her young teammate is "more than capable" of handling the task at hand.
After all, Harmon is a two-time winner of the Big 12 Freshman of the Week award. Off the court, she has become one of the faces and voices of UT's basketball program. No Texas player has appeared at more media availabilities this season than Harmon.
"It is a heavy load for a freshman, but she's here; you've seen what she can do," Allen-Taylor said. "I don't think she's incapable of doing or carrying the responsibility that Coach wants her to carry. I don't think it's too hard for her."
Texas, which has lost its last two conference games, will attempt to get back on track at home against West Virginia on Saturday. The Mountaineers (8-5, 1-2) are forcing 21.69 turnovers per game. That ranks 21st nationally and second in the Big 12.
In a 64-53 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday, West Virginia forced 21 turnovers. That was the eighth 20-turnover game for the Mountaineer defense this season.