Coming home: Texas' Aaliyah Moore — the one that got away — returns home to play Oklahoma
Aaliyah Moore has both a homecoming and a basketball game scheduled for this weekend.
Moore, a freshman forward, and No. 9 Texas play No. 18 Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman. Moore, an Oklahoma native, attended a high school that's less than 15 miles away from OU's Lloyd Noble Center.
So when Moore was asked last week whether she thought the state of Oklahoma would even allow its prodigal daughter to cross back over the Red River for this game, she just laughed. But Longhorns head coach Vic Schaefer interrupted with an assurance.
"They're gonna let her in the state, that ain't going to be an issue." Schaefer said. "They can boo and hiss all they want."
OK, so they'll let her back in. But what about the question of how the Sooner State's best women's prospect in years left OU's backyard to play at Texas?
Moore was Oklahoma's Gatorade player of the year her last two years at Moore High, and was the No. 6 overall recruit in the country, the state's highest-rated recruit since 2017 according to ESPN HoopGurlz rankings. She was one of only six girls from Oklahoma to have even been named a McDonald's All-American.
Moore High basketball coach Brent Hodges first met her when she played on the same youth league soccer team with his niece — Moore "still has probably one of the best penalty kick saves I've ever seen by a kid," he said.
But she wound up with a few memorable moments on the basketball court as well. Moore averaged 25.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game her senior year. As a junior, she led her school to the state tournament for the first time in 22 years.
"As dominant as they get," Hodges said.
Oklahoma offered Moore a scholarship in May 2018. But by then, she was already being recruited by Texas. Former Longhorns coach Karen Aston had offered Moore, who was a freshman at the time, one month earlier.
Aston and Texas went their separate ways during the spring semester of Moore's junior year, but Schaefer and his staff were able to close the deal. Moore committed to Texas less than three weeks after the coaching change, picking the Longhorns over schools like South Carolina and UCLA.
"I wanted to win," Moore said. "When I found out it was going to be coach Schaefer that was coming here, I was like, 'Oh yeah, he knows how to win.' I mean, that's perfect."
If winning was a priority for Moore, it's understandable why she overlooked her hometown team. Oklahoma last reached the NCAA Tournament when Moore was in the ninth grade.
But Oklahoma, which actually has appeared in a Final Four more recently than Texas, has returned to its winning ways. The Sooners are 17-3 under new coach Jennie Baranczyk. Oklahoma is allowing 74.8 points per game, but that conference-worst mark hasn't slowed the Sooners. DePaul is the only team in the country that's scoring more than Oklahoma, which averages 87 points.
"Offensively, they're just a machine," Schaefer said. "(Baranczyk) does a great job and they're really talented. Obviously, there's some kids there that can really play and they're really fitting into her system."
Moore returns to Oklahoma having averaged 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds over the first 10 games of her collegiate career. She was the preseason pick to be the Big 12's freshman of the year, but an ankle injury in November cost her eight games and the likelihood of winning that award.
Moore described her injury as "rough, it was really rough." Sidelined for seven weeks, she spent much of that time rehabbing and trying to help her team in other ways. In her second game back, she grabbed 15 rebounds against Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Jan. 9. She and Charli Collier are the only Longhorns with a 15-rebound game over the past five seasons. She has started the last three games.
"She's somebody that you better pay attention to, because if you don't, you'll look up one night and she's going to have 15 and 15. She's capable of that," Schaefer said. "That's a kid for us that, not only this year because she's back in the starting lineup, but for years to come, she's going to be somebody people are going to have to deal with night in and night out."
When Moore signed, she expected to work with Johnnie Harris as her position coach. Harris, however, got the head coaching job at Auburn this past offseason. Former Cal assistant April Phillips was hired to replace her to coach Texas' post players.
Moore said her goofy personality meshes well with Phillips' demeanor. She described Phillips as a good mentor who has taught her a lot about positioning in the paint.
This weekend, Moore will go home and show off that post positioning and the other things that she's learned while away at college. Saturday marks the first time that Texas and Oklahoma have met as ranked Red River rivals since 2017.
"Not many freshmen get the opportunities that I've been able to have, so I'm just taking a hold of it, taking it day by day," Moore said. "I'm just loving it, enjoying the process. It's been a ride, but I'm really enjoying it."