Ashleigh Fontenette

Senior forward Ashley Gayle, 22, ended her career with an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Texas has one win in the tournament in five years under Gail Goestenkors.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Although her seat is hotter than ever after another early NCAA tournament exit, head coach Gail Goestenkors has to be somewhat relieved that her fifth, and perhaps most turbulent, season at Texas has reached a conclusion.

The Longhorns’ 68-55 loss to No. 8 seed West Virginia Mountaineers in the first round of the NCAA tournament was a fitting end to yet another disappointing season under Goestenkors. In its final game, Texas scored a season-low 18 first half points and converted on less than a third of its overall field goal attempts, not exactly the performance expected out of a team that started the season ranked in the top 25 with plenty of NCAA tournament experience among its key players to boot.

Senior guards Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and post Ashley Gayle had reached the tournament in each of the past three seasons, only to be sent home in the first round every time.

Anderson and Fontenette, along with sophomore Chassidy Fussell were looked often for scoring production due to a rash of injuries that plagued the team all year.

Fussell led the team in scoring all season at over 16 points per game. She also became just the second player in UT history to shoot over 90 percent or better from the free-throw line.

Fontenette and Anderson both averaged a shade under 12 points per game and are both a part of the 1,000-point club.

Gayle finishes her career as the all-time leading blocker in Texas history with 370 blocks.

One positive to take away from the Longhorns’ less than spectacular season is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of talent that is stashed away deep down on Goestenkors’ bench. And there’s more coming in this year’s recruiting class as well.

Freshman guard standout Cassie Peoples was limited to just six games this year after failing to heal properly after leg surgery last summer. Peoples was ranked as the No. 7 guard in her class by HoopGurlz. Sophomore guard Shanice McKoy was also unable to play this season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in the summer. McCoy played in 14 games in her freshman season.

Sophomore guard Tiffany Moore also played in just four games before her season was ended by a serious allergy problem.

Couple in the intermittent injuries of two more sophomores: lightning-quick guard Chelsea Bass and dominant (when healthy) post Cokie Reed, and you can start to understand the magnitude of the injury situation that befell the team this year.

Goestenkors has also hauled in two pretty massive recruits in 6-foot-7 post Imani Stafford and top guard Empress Davenport that will join the team. Both bring even more depth to the Texas roster.

Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky has pledged to keep Goestenkors under her current seven-year contract that is set to expire in two seasons, but if Goestenkors doesn’t turn things around in a big way, she could be in jeopardy of losing what she has deemed her “dream job.”

Printed on Monday, March 19, 2012 as: Longhorns failed to reach their potential leaving Goestenkors on coaching hot seat

Strengths:
Experience and smart offensive possessions are the main ingredients in the Longhorns’ recipe to success this postseason. Senior guard Yvonne Anderson seems to be in all-out beast mode after a career night in her last game. If she can limit turnovers and take the wheel in the Longhorns transition offense, Texas has a chance to sneak up on some teams.

Sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell and senior guard Ashleigh Fontenette both benefit when Anderson is playing her best. Fussell is able to spot up and get her shot going and if Anderson can continue to score as much as she has, it takes some of the pressure off of Fussell.

Fontenette seems to feed off Anderson’s energy as well and is able to either run the point when Anderson needs a rest, or play on the wing where she can also knock down deep shots. Coach Gail Goestenkors summed up her thoughts on what her team needs to do to in order to avoid another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

“I think the seniors have set the tone,” Goestenkors said. “I’m very happy for them because they deserve this, and they wanted to make sure that they will be going to the NCAA Tournament and they’re doing everything in their power to make that happen.”

Weaknesses:
Turnovers have plagued this team from the very first game of the season. Anderson’s recent play has resulted in a considerable drop in turnovers, but the team still averages nearly 16 per game. Turnovers can’t become a hallmark of the Longhorns offense, as mistakes in March are only magnified.

Texas has had some issues rebounding at times this year as well, especially against the nation’s best teams. When a team is getting outrebounded, it tends to start to foul more, which has also been an area of concern for the Longhorns at times. Senior post Ashley Gayle leads the team in Rasheed Wallace’s favorite category: foul outs (five).

Overall, this is a pretty well-rounded team both inside and out of the paint, but Texas has shown a propensity of very streaky shooting performances. The team has shot around 41 percent from the field for the year, but when the shots aren’t falling, the Longhorns can get a little careless with their shot selection. It all goes back to smart decisions on the offensive end as the key to the Longhorns’ postseason survival chances.

Signature wins: Virginia, California, Michigan State, Texas A&M (2), Oklahoma

Bad losses: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas (2)

Key players:
Fussell, Anderson and Fontenette need to score near their season averages to keep the Longhorns in any game. Players like freshman forward Nneka Enemkpali will have a chance to shine as well. Enemkpali is fresh off a career-high 14-rebound performance against the Aggies and was the Longhorns’ second leading rebounder in conference play at 5.6 boards per game.

“She’s very athletic,” Gayle said of the freshman. “And I think she’s figured out the angles to rebounding and how to rebound at this level. I think she’s doing a great job.”

Gayle herself is also a player to keep an eye on. Gayle is the most experienced, but maybe the least offensively inclined of all the Longhorns post players. She’s averaged about five points and six rebounds this season. But, Gayle averages nearly three blocked shots per game which provides a presence down low that can’t be taken for granted.

Sophomore Chelsea Bass has been a reliable scoring option coming off the bench and has shown explosive attributes with the ball in her hands. Bass has played through some injuries this year, but is second on the team in free-throw percentage (.738).

Quotes to note:

“They hurt us with the guard play,” said A&M head coach Gary Blair after the Aggies’ latest loss to the Longhorns.

“They hurt us with the pick-and-roll. They hurt us with the offensive boards. They hurt us with energy.”

“We’ve started turning the corner, and we’re going in a different direction from the past,” Fontenette said. “I think [the program] is going to definitely build on this going into the next couple of years.”

Ashley Gayle and the rest of the Longhorns senior class will lead the team into Texas A&M for the last time, as conference foes. The seniors would like nothing more than a win over their rivals to end their regular season careers, and add to their tournament resumes.

Photo Credit: Sa Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ seniors could not have drawn up a more dramatic departure.

The veteran trio will play their final game at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday in what will also be the last Big 12 meeting between the Longhorns and storied rival No. 17 Texas A&M (20-8, 11-6 Big 12). Factor in the must-win nature of the contest and you get one heck of a storyline.

“Obviously there’s a lot riding on this game,” said senior Ashley Gayle. ”There are just so many emotions in a game like this. We’re all very excited. It’s always fun to play A&M, and we beat them last time out so that’s huge for our confidence.”

The Longhorns (17-12, 7-10 Big 12) defeated the Aggies in College Station in early January and will need to come up with another big upset this weekend as they look to boost their NCAA tournament resume before heading to Kansas City for the Big 12 Championships.

Considering the struggles that head coach Gail Goestenkors and her senior class have had against the Aggies, a season sweep would be a great a way to go out.

“The rivalry is pretty intense,” Goestenkors said. “Not just since we’ve been here, but for more than 100 years, these two schools have been battling it out. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the last ever Big 12 game between us two. It’s going to be a statement game just like it was when our football team beat theirs earlier this year.”

Prior to this year’s victory, Texas’ senior trio of Gayle, Ashleigh Fontenette and Yvonne Anderson were 0-6 against Texas A&M, while Goestenkors was also win-less at 0-8.

“To finally get a win this year was definitely the high point in the rivalry for me,” Fontenette said. “It had just been so long since we beat them. We’d come close a few times, but to finally get that win under our belts this year was huge for our confidence.”

This year’s senior crop also holds a special place in Longhorn history as they were coach Goestenkors’ first recruiting class. As Goestenkors looked to build upon the team that former head coach and Longhorn legend Jody Conradt had left behind, she made a lasting impression on the trio and was a big part of why they chose Texas.

“Coach Goestenkors’ hire really got the ball rolling for us,” Anderson said. “Obviously the academic staff, the campus, the city of Austin and the fans all had to do with why we chose Texas, but to have the opportunity to play for a coach like Gail [Goestenkors] was just such an honor.”

While there have been several moments over the past four years that have helped these seniors develop the tight-knit relationship they currently enjoy, perhaps the biggest moment came just a couple of weeks ago, before the Baylor game. Just prior to tip-off, Goestenkors sat all three seniors down and talked to them about what they need to do to finish off their careers the right way.

“[Goestenkors] just talked to us about having no regrets,” Fontenette said. “We just want to leave it all on the court. We don’t want to have to look back and feel like we didn’t do enough. Ever since that conversation, we’ve taken it one game at a time and we’ve poured our heart into everything we do on the court.”

Texas has won two of three games since that night, with both wins coming in a convincing fashion. If they can find a way to win one more, these seniors might just create a new favorite memory.

“We’ve done some pretty cool things since I’ve been here,” Gayle said. “Going to the Virgin Islands and our trip to Europe were both a lot of fun, but to sweep A&M on senior night, that would probably be a pretty cool experience.”

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: Seniors look for victory in team's last trip to A&M

Sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell dribbles past a defender during the Longhorns 64-53 win over the Red Raiders. Fussell scored a game-high 20 points to lead the Longhorns to a big win over their oldest rival. Texas now holds a 61-26 advantage in the all-time series.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time since 2011, the Longhorns have won consecutive games.

Texas (15-10, 5-8 Big 12) got one step closer to the NCAA tournament with a much-needed 63-54 victory over Texas Tech (17-8, 5-8 Big 12) at the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday night. The win gives the Longhorns their first multiple-game win streak since they won five in a row to close out their nonconference schedule.

“Obviously we didn’t start out the conference [schedule] like we wanted to,” said sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell. “But it feels pretty good to get this two-game win streak.”

The two squads, who are now tied in the Big 12 standings, were tied seven times, traded leads five times and went back and forth all night. But in the final five minutes, Texas took over. A few big shots from Fussell and Ashleigh Fontenette, combined with a couple key blocks from Ashley Gayle, swung the momentum in the Longhorns’ favor as they were able to pull away down the stretch.

“There was a tremendous determination not to lose this game,” said head coach Gail Goestenkors. “Our team as a whole, and our guards in particular, made up their mind that we were not going to lose this one.”

The Longhorns got a huge boost from Fontenette and Fussell, who each played all 40 minutes. Fontenette had 19 points and 10 rebounds to earn her second double-double of the year and fourth of her career. Fussell had a game-high 20 points, made three of five shots from beyond the arc and hit all five of her free throws. The Longhorns were a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe, giving them their first flawless free throw performance of the season.

“I thought the two of them [Fontenette and Fussell] played very well,” Goestenkors said. “Ashleigh played like a warrior the entire game and was not going to let her team lose this game. Chassidy had a couple big buckets down the stretch and I think that was the back breaker for them.”

For the first time in a long while, the Longhorns also dominated in the post.

Texas out-rebounded the Lady Raiders, 44-33, and scored 34 points in the paint while holding Texas Tech to just 14.

“Our posts were determined to have a greater effort here tonight,” Goestenkors said. “It was a total team effort from our posts. They wanted to do a better job tonight and they definitely did.”

The interior unit of Gayle, Nneka Enemkpali, Anne Marie Hartung and Cokie Reed pulled down a combined 21 rebounds, including a career-high 12 from Hartung, and blocked seven shots, four more than the entire Lady Raider team.

The victory over Texas Tech puts the Longhorns back in the NCAA tournament conversation as they head to Manhattan, Kan. for a big matchup with Kansas State this Saturday. With both Baylor and Texas A&M left on the schedule, and only five games before the conference tournament, Texas will need to make it three in a row to keep their tournament hopes alive.

“We have to keep our foot on the gas,” Goestenkors said. “We’ve been able to get a couple big wins over teams that beat us the first time around and now we need to go to Kansas State and get another one.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Horns handle Red Raiders, split season series

Ashleigh Fontenette lifts a shot over a Texas Tech defender Wednesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

For only the fourth time in her career, senior guard Ashleigh Fontenette recorded a double-double.

It happened to come on a night when the Longhorns desperately needed a conference win against the rival Red Raiders. After winning against Oklahoma State last Saturday, the victory over Texas Tech has Texas enjoying its first win streak in conference play this season. At 5-8 in Big 12 games, the Longhorns still have some work to do if they hope to reach the NCAA tournament, but their most recent win couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.

“Tonight we came out and were not going to lose this game,” Fontenette said. “We kept confidence in each other.”

Fontenette, a Pflugerville native, connected on a career-high nine field goals to the tune of 19 points and added a season-high 10 rebounds, all coming on the defensive end. With her team down four points late in the second half, Fontenette found herself with the ball in her hands.

“I kept looking at the clock and saying ‘We have seven minutes left,’ so there was no need to rush,” Fontenette said. “Nobody wanted to lose, everybody stepped up big tonight.”

The Longhorns were a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, but it was the Fontenette’s play that enabled them to rally from multiple deficits throughout the course of the game.

“There was a tremendous determination from Ashleigh the whole game,” said head coach Gail Goestenkors. “I thought she played like a warrior, she was determined not to lose this game.”

Texas has shown a tendency of starting games slowly, and this game was no exception. Early turnovers from the Longhorns allowed the Red Raiders to jump out in front in the first half.

“That first half was one of the worst halves of the year,” Goestenkors said. “We just kept turning the ball over.”

After the sloppy first half, Fontenette took it upon herself to take better care of the ball.

“Even going into halftime we kept saying ‘As bad as we’re playing we’re still only down two, so it can only get better from here,’” Fontenette said.

Texas outscored Texas Tech 15-0 on fast break points and forced 16 Red Raider turnovers. Fontenette’s 10 defensive rebounds and two steals helped push the tempo, something the Longhorns have been looking to do all season.

“I think that’s a huge part of our game,” Fontenette said. “As guards, we like to get out on the break but it starts with our defense. When we started getting stops it allowed us to push the ball in transition and get easy buckets.”

The Longhorns will now face Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. Saturday night in hopes of extending their conference winning streak. The Longhorns aren’t taking the Wildcats lightly and are in search of another season split after losing to the Wildcats 64-55 in Austin earlier this month.

“We need to take care of the ball and have as many opportunities to score as possible,” Goestenkors said. “We’ve split [the season series] with the last two teams we’ve played, so we need to go to K-State and get another split.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Senior guard paces late run, posts career-best numbers

Inconsistent guard play and their inability to establish an offensive identity in the post cost the Longhorns an opportunity to move up in the Big 12 standings at the Frank Erwin Center Wednesday night.

Texas turned the ball over 21 times and got only 10 points from its bigs as Kansas State moved to 7-2 on the road with a 64-55 victory at the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday night.

“We have to all take responsibility,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “The posts need to do a better job of getting [in] position and demanding the ball and the guards need to recognize when our posts are open and get them the ball.”

Longhorn starters Cokie Reed and Ashley Gayle combined to score just one point and failed to record a field goal in the game.

Texas’ lack of inside scoring had a lot to do with its lack of opportunities. The Longhorns’ four interior players had a total of just 10 field goal attempts on the night and were never able to establish themselves in the paint.

“We didn’t have much of a post presence tonight,” said senior guard Ashleigh Fontenette. “But it’s as much our responsibility as it is theirs, we didn’t do a good job of getting our posts the ball.”

Fontenette had 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds in the game but failed to take care of the ball. She turned it over six times, and missed a few key free throws down the stretch.

“We just had a lot of mental breakdowns,” Goestenkors said. “Turnovers and all the missed free throws were mental breakdowns that we just can’t afford to have.”

A lack of post-production is becoming a trend on this team and if the Longhorns can’t find a way to get their forwards more involved in the offense, they will continue to struggle in a league with as much size as the Big 12.

“Most of the teams in this league are very successful in the post, so we have to make a change and figure it out,” Goestenkors said.

After trailing by nine at the half, Texas came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders and was able to build an eight point lead of their own with just under 12 minutes to go in the second half.

But the Wildcats refused to lie down. Senior forward Jalana Childs took over on the inside and imposed her will on the Longhorns’ interior defense.

“As a senior leader on this team, I have to step up when it comes to crunch time,” Childs said. “I’m glad that my coach and teammates trust me to do so. We love to win these tough games.”

Kansas State head coach Deb Patterson liked what she saw from Childs and felt her performance in the latter stages of the game was what put her team over the top.

“When we needed a couple baskets to take the pressure off our perimeter players, she stepped up,” Patterson said. “She’s a great finisher and she gave us a chance to come away from this one with a victory.”

Printed on Thursday, February 2, 2012 as: Horns plagued by turnovers once again

Women's Basketball

Ashleigh Fontenette (33) led Texas with 22 points. During the game, she became TexasÂ’ 36th player to score 1,000 career points.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After winning its last five games Texas was unable to pull off an upset over the Lady Volunteers this weekend in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Lady Volunteers were lead by Shekinna Stricklen who scored 20 points and Vicki Baugh who added 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Lady Volunteers converted 16 points off of 16 Texas turnovers and out-rebouned Texas 49-38 while scoring 17 second-chance points.

Despite a distinct advantage down low, the Lady Volunteers allowed the Longhorns to hang around. After a Chelsea Bass 3-pointer the Longhorns trailed 59-53 with just 8:50 left in the game.

“I felt good when we cut it to six. I felt like we were at a good spot, but I felt like we ran out of gas a little bit,” Longhorns head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “We started fouling and had a couple of turnovers. With a great team like Tennessee, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that you have.”

After Bass’ shot the Lady Volunteers sparked a 10-0 run to take the lead for good.

Senior Ashleigh Fontenette led all scorers with 22 points and sophomore Chassidy Fussell chipped in with 14 points for the Longhorns.

Fontenette’s first bucket put her over the 1,000-point mark for her career, making her only the 36th Longhorn to achieve the feat.

“I didn’t even know I was close, so I’m kind of shocked right now,” Fontenette said. “I think we did good as a team today, we just couldn’t put it all together.”

Tennessee was the third ranked team that Texas has faced so far this season. The Longhorns next matchup with a ranked opponent should come no earlier than Jan. 15 when the Baylor Bears come to Austin. Texas’ last win over a top-10 team came Feb 1, 2009 against No. 4 Baylor in Waco.

Goestenkors knows this weekend’s loss will allow for many opportunities to improve.

“I saw some great things, and I also saw some things that we need to work on, and we will, and we’ll get better,” she said.

Women's Basketball

After being embarrassed by Oklahoma last Saturday, Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors held a practice she referred to as an NBA practice — as in no babies allowed.  

On Monday night against Iowa State (19-8; 7-6), Goestenkors got the mature physicality she was looking for but not the result, as Texas (17-10; 6-7) dropped its second game in a row in overtime, 66-57.

The Longhorns stormed out with a fiery aggression as Goestenkors’ game plan of a dribble-drive offense came into play immediately. Freshman Chassidy Fussell scored Texas’ first points with a hard drive against four Cyclone players, knocking one to the ground.

The tactic worked for much of the first half as it freed up shooters and allowed for easy lay-ups but was derailed in the second half when Iowa State’s man-to-man defense tuned up, forcing Texas to settle for contested jumpers.

As has been the case in recent years between these two teams, the game was a back-and-forth battle the whole way through. With Texas down by two with less than a minute remaining, the dribble-drive worked again.

With 13 seconds remaining in regulation, junior Ashleigh Fontenette slashed to the basket, causing the Iowa State defense to collapse onto her. She dished the ball to freshman post Anne Marie Hartung who tied the game at 54-54.

Overtime was much crueler to Texas. With Hartung and junior Ashley Gayle both fouled out and playing her worst game of the season, the Longhorns simply lost steam. They were outscored 12-3 in the extra period.

With Goestenkors preaching physicality, Yvonne Anderson certainly stepped up her game on Monday. The junior guard scored 14 points and snagged 10 rebounds in the losing effort. Senior Kathleen Nash added 15 points and Fontenette, who was playing with a broken shooting thumb, managed 12 points and three steals.

Though she scored the first points of the game, normally sure-handed Fussell went 1-11 from the field for two points.

Gayle’s foul trouble had her riding the pine for most of the game. This opened up inside scoring for the Cyclones, and forward Chelsea Poppens took advantage. Poppens had a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.

This was the second game in a row in which Gayle fouled out. Texas committed 22 team fouls to Iowa State’s 12.

The loss will send Texas’ NCAA tournament bid further into speculation as it appears to be flirting with the edge of the bubble. With only three games remaining, Texas will likely need to win at least two to stay in consideration for a seed.

Womens Basketball

Five Longhorns earned spots on the 2011 Academic All-Big 12 Women’s Basketball Team, the conference announced Tuesday. Seniors Kathleen Nash and Sarah Lancaster join juniors Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and Ashley Gayle on the First Team.

It’s the third-straight selection for Nash and the second for Anderson, Fontenette and Gayle. Lancaster was also a three-time Academic All-Big 12 selection during her four years as a member of the women’s tennis team.
 

In a game where seemingly every player on the Texas squad made respectable strides forward in their individual games, Ashleigh Fontenette’s day was particularly special.

“A-T,” as she is affectionately called by her teammates and coaches, was the driving force behind the Longhorns’ 115-53 victory. She dropped a game-high 23 points on Northwestern State for her second straight 20-plus scoring performance of the season. In addition to her scoring, she snagged eight rebounds, made six assists to just two turnovers, stole the ball four times and the 5-foot-8-inch guard even had a block.

In addition Fontenette was 2-of-4 from long range and only missed one of six free throws.

“I think [Ashleigh] is one of the best point guards in the country,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “I think she showed that. She’s been really consistent with her play. She’s a tremendous defensive player, and she’s also got a lot of confidence offensively now.”

Goestenkors said she also saw a much smarter basketball player on the court.

“I think last year was a learning year for her at that point position,” she said. “Now she knows exactly what we need and when we need it.”

Fontenette knew she needed to force turnovers. Like a heat-seeking missile, she was relentless in her pursuit of the ball in all phases of the game.

After scoring the first bucket of the game, a 3-pointer, she immediately stayed under the Texas basket to defend the inbound pass. Fontenette was alone at first on the press but then demanded help from her teammates. Her persistence paid off because that is where most of her six steals came from.

Most of her damage came in the first half of the game when she said she was looking to get as many people involved as possible.

“I think early I just looked to attack in transition and the defense started to collapse on me and I just found the open player,” Fontenette said. “We were looking to share the ball and I think we did a great job of doing that.”

Fontenette’s calm demeanor off the court does not translate to passive play on it. She was Texas’ workhorse last night, and she knows that she needs to continue having that attitude to ensure Texas’ long-term success.

Luckily, despite individual accomplishments, Fontenette always has a team-first mentality.

“I personally love it,” the freshman guard said, referring to the team’s tempo. “As a team, we have a lot of athletic guards and our posts can run the floor, and I think it’s great for us to be able to pressure the other team and get out and run.”