The fine line that separates the best of the Big 12 from the worst got even thinner for the Texas Longhorns.
The No. 5-seed Longhorns suffered a scare from the No. 12-seed Missouri Tigers on Thursday but managed to squeak out a 64-59 victory in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
The feisty Tigers came into the tournament with an embarrassing 2-14 Big 12 record and an undersized lineup. By all accounts, Texas was faster, stronger and taller than its opponent. Somehow, though, the Longhorns blew an early 14-point lead and were down by one at the half.
“We knew they’d play hard,” junior Kathleen Nash said. “We didn’t come in here ready enough.”
The Longhorns found themselves in a scoring rut for the beginning of the second half.
Texas clumsily tried to establish an inside game against the smaller Tigers, but as a result they turned the ball over 19 times.
In the end the Horns pulled everyone on the team together to win.
“Coach said before the game that everybody has a role on this team,” sophomore Ashley Gayle said. “This team is 10 pieces, and everyone has a job.”
Those pieces all brought just enough to the board to get the win. Every player on the active Longhorn roster scored at least two points, and all but one posted a rebound. Leading the Texas charge was senior Brittainey Raven. Raven, sporting a No. 13 on her jersey in honor of freshman Lauren Flores, who is out for the season with an injury, had a solid performance with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals for the night.
Fellow senior Earnesia Williams scored nine points and became the 35th Longhorn in history to record 1,000 career points.
“Erni is our warrior, and she was again tonight,” Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “I’m really happy for her. I wanted her to end on a good note.”
The Tigers countered the Longhorns’ team-oriented play with a single-player charge led by the hot hand of Amanda Hanneman. She kept the Tigers in the game, making a career-high seven 3-pointers for 21 points.
Goestenkors said she didn’t put it past the scrappy Tigers to give the Longhorns a run for their money. They were playing with heavy emotions as this was their coach’s final game.
“I feel for Cindy [Stein], I really do,” Goestenkors said. “She is a great coach. Her team kept fighting, and I would not expect anything less but a Cindy Stein team.”
With the victory, the Longhorns will play their archrival, No. 4-seed Texas A&M, today — a team that Goestenkors has never beaten.
“[Texas A&M’s] athleticism and physical style of play will take you out of your sets,” Goestenkors said. “They’ve let their style of play frustrate us in the past, and they are going to be really tough. We have to handle their pressure and physicality and take care of the ball.”