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'Stay in the picture': Longhorn guard Shay Holle sees her role grow for No. 11 Texas

Texas guard Shay Holle protects the ball from the defense of Oklahoma guard Madi Williams during their game Feb. 12 at the Erwin Center. Holle, who starred at Westlake High School, originally signed with the Longhorns when Karen Aston was the head coach.

Before this season tipped off, Texas women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer explained what a reserve role for Shay Holle would look like.

Schaefer said he needed Holle to defend. The Austin-raised sophomore would have to rebound. Oh, and if she could get a couple of layups each game? Schaefer surmised "that'd be really good."

Statistically speaking, Holle has matched those expectations. Texas' 6-foot guard is averaging 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds. She has been a contributor on a defense that's allowing a Big 12-low 56.6 points per game. 

Those numbers, though, don't tell the complete story.

After coming off the bench for much of this season, Holle has started the last four games. Texas is 4-0 in those contests. Two of those have come at the expense of ranked Oklahoma and Iowa State teams. On Wednesday, No. 11 Texas (19-6, 9-5) will travel to Kansas State (18-8, 8-6).

"To me, she deserved that opportunity," Schaefer said. "You have to give Shay a lot of credit because she's making herself into a Big 12 basketball player."

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As a freshman last year, Holle averaged 7.5 minutes per game. She made two brief appearances in the NCAA Tournament during UT's run to the Elite Eight. 

Over the first 18 games this season, her appearances lasted an average of 12.5 minutes. But as Schaefer likes to put it, Holle stayed in the picture. Schaefer has noted a few times that Holle ran with the men on UT's scout team in order to get more reps in practice.

Baylor guard Jordan Lewis shoots under the defense of Texas guard Shay Holle during their Feb. 6 game at the Erwin Center. Holle, a former backup, has started Texas' last four games. The Longhorns have won all four.

"You don't get better on the sideline," Holle said in December. "Just being available, whether it's on scout team or not, that's how you stay in the picture. You keep working and you stay on the court."

A three-time all-state honoree at Westlake, Holle signed with Texas when Karen Aston was the head coach. During the spring of Holle's senior year, Aston was replaced by Schaefer and the look of the UT roster began to change.

One member of Aston's final recruiting class never made it to campus. Three of the other four recruits in that Class of 2020 have since transferred. Of the players who were already at Texas when Schaefer was hired, only seniors Joanne Allen-Taylor and Audrey Warren remain.

So why didn't that exodus also include Holle? Why didn't she look for more playing time elsewhere? Holle has said the answer to those questions was about her "just buying into the team and not necessarily myself."

"We always talk about being all for Texas, and I think that's a big part of it is not needing the immediate reward or success but trusting the process and enjoying the process," Holle said. "I love this school, I love my teammates and the coaching staff, so all of that makes it a lot easier."

More:Winners of its last four games, No. 11 Texas travels to meet Ayoka Lee, Kansas State

When asked why Holle didn't transfer, Schaefer made it clear that his staff wanted her to stay. He added that a plan was in place for a player he described as unselfish and humble.

Schaefer also suggested that being from a competitive family helped. Holle's father, Eric, played football at Texas. Her mother, Michelle, played softball at Angelo State. Holle has two sisters who played basketball at Texas State and Brooke Holle is a member of the Bobcats' 1,000 Point Club.

"The kid's a competitor," Schaefer said. "I think that's what's come to the front right now is that she's just stayed in the picture and kept working."

Early in the season, Holle had some moments. She knocked down two 3-pointers at Texas A&M and scored a career-high 10 points in a rout of Cal State Northridge.

But with Texas needing a spark at the end of a recent three-game losing streak, Holle was inserted into the starting lineup. Four minutes into her first start, at Texas Tech on Feb. 9, she finished off a fast-break opportunity with a lay-in off a lofted pass from Rori Harmon. About a minute later, she rejected a fast-break attempt by Red Raider guard Bre'Amber Scott.

In each of her last three games, Holle has played at least 26 minutes. She is averaging 8.7 points on 13-of-21 shooting. Warren has said that Holle "has that dirty work in her" when it comes to getting deflections and assisting on defense.

"Shay, she's growing," Allen-Taylor said. "Her best basketball is just ahead of her. She has so much potential."