Brady Sanders

Junior guard Brady Sanders drives past a Kansas State defender. Sanders had a career night in which she scored 18 points and made four 3-pointers
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Blow out!

The Longhorns (17–8, 6–8 Big 12) won their second consecutive game Wednesday night as they beat Kansas State (15–10, 5–9 Big 12), 76–58, thanks to a career night from junior guard Brady Sanders and a strong team shooting performance.

Sanders’ 18 points and four 3-pointers were both career highs, and Texas collectively found its pace by not rushing shots and playing better defense.

“I thought Brady got us off to a terrific start and really calmed our team,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “Then we settled in and played a nice game.”

Wednesday marked the first time Texas has won consecutive games since emerging victorious in its first two conference games.

“There were a lot of great decisions made,” Aston said. “Basically, I thought everyone who went into the game contributed something, so, overall, it was a really good team performance.”

The Kansas State 2-3 defense forced errant shots from Texas, as the Longhorns missed their first seven field goals. But the buckets started to fall when Sanders hit the team’s first shot.

“Really my only focus was getting the win,” Sanders said. “And it just so happened that my shots fell tonight, and my teammates put me in a good position to score.”

Freshman guard Ariel Atkins notched her fifth conference game in double figures with 11 points Wednesday. Atkins said the way Sanders played tonight gave the whole team a boost.

“When she’s out there smiling and laughing on the court, it gives us the confidence to be like, ‘Oh, okay, she’s having a good time, so we can too,’” Atkins said.

With injuries striking the team hard, Aston said the Longhorns continued to find ways to fit into unfamiliar roles.

“Their roles changed so much,” Aston said. “But I do think we’ve had some constancy with what we’re asking each person to do, so I think that gives them some comfort … and allowed them to settle in. I think they’re having some fun now, which is good to see.”

Sophomore center Kelsey Lang, who didn’t score her first point until early in the second half, ended the game with 9 points and four boards, while junior center Imani McGee-Stafford had 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. 

Texas won the turnover battle against a Kansas State team that ranks second in the conference with 9.1 steals per game. The Longhorns caused 19 turnovers, eight of which were steals. 

Texas sits three games away from a 20-win season, one of the early goals for the team, according to Aston. With four regular season games remaining, the Longhorns look to continue their winning streak with a game against Texas Tech on Saturday.

“I do think that [the team] is confident, but it’s one game at a time,” Aston said. “We worried about tonight, and tomorrow we’ll wake up and start figuring out how to win in Lubbock. We don’t need to look past that at all.”

Freshman guard Brooke McCarty drives past the Baylor defense. McCarty had her game-tying shot blocked at the end.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

With two minutes remaining in the game, and down by 5 points, Texas found itself in a position to end its losing skid. But Baylor proved to be too much once again — and the Longhorns fell to the Bears for the second time this season, 70-68.

Three pointers from freshman guard Brooke McCarty and junior guard Brady Sanders cut the deficit to 4 points in the waning minutes for Texas. After a missed Baylor field goal, sophomore guard Brianna Taylor’s mid-ranged jumper made it a 2-point game, and, with less than a minute remaining, Texas had the opportunity to tie, or even win. But Baylor forward Nina Davis blocked McCarty’s floater, and it was all over.

“It was a play that I felt like we were comfortable running,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I did think we could get to the next portion of the play, which would have been an odd ball with [sophomore center Kelsey Lang] coming out the setting one with [freshman guard Ariel Atkins], which would have gotten them in a two-man game.”

Sanders said she felt the failure of the last play. 

“I missed Ariel coming off the screen, and I should have tried to definitely get it to her,” Sanders said. “But I shouldn’t have had that mistake.”

Sunday’s match is the 10th straight time the Bears defeated the Longhorns, who now sit at 4–7 in the Big 12. Baylor found holes in Texas 2–3 defense in both halves finding quality looks for 3-point shots and penetrating the lane. Aston said despite the team’s shortcomings, she felt encouraged by their performance.

“Obviously there are no moral victories in this game at all, but I’m pleased with the way we played the game today,” Aston said.” I think if we can build on this then we can get back on track.”

Lang picked up a double-double, scoring 20 points with 11 boards. Sanders led the team with six assists, joining double-digits club with 14 points, and Taylor ended with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Junior guard Empress Davenport returned to action and played 22 minutes with 2 points, but ultimately fouled out. She had missed the last two games after injuring her right shoulder.

Despite the loss, Aston said she felt this was the first game where the team was ready to move forward from the adversity it has faced this season. Lang also said she thinks the team is starting to understand how to move forward without senior forward Nneka Enemkpali.

“No one person is going to fill what she was, because she was an amazing player,” Lang said. “But we are all starting to realize we need to take on a little part of her role. Hopefully that will help fill the void.”

Texas returns to action Wednesday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, against Oklahoma State.

Back in January, Texas fought valiantly against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State in an attempt to open conference play with a win. Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali contributed 18 points and nine rebounds to the battle, and sophomore guard Brady Sanders hit 10 second-half points in hopes of closing the gap. But the Cowgirls outlasted Texas with a 67-61 win.

Some things haven’t changed since then. Oklahoma State (22-6, 11-6 Big 12) still holds a top-15 ranking, while Texas hasn’t been ranked all season. Enemkpali is still playing well for Texas, scoring 19 points to complement nine rebounds against Texas Tech this weekend. And Sanders still explodes in the second half, as she notched 13 of her career-high 17 points Saturday after the half.

But with this leadership, one thing has changed: Texas has won conference games. And it’s won a lot of them at home. To name one, the Texas Tech team that competed to a 3-point game at buzzer Saturday lost by 37 at the Frank Erwin Center on Feb. 5. The inconsistency is striking. But the Longhorns’ home success should bode better for them Monday night than the rocky conference start.

“It was a competitive game, a little bit ugly,” head coach Karen Aston said of the Jan. 2 matchup. “It looked like the first game of the Big 12, a little bit slower pace than both teams play, just trying to figure out … the nerves of the first Big 12 game.”

Leaving the nerves and slow pace behind in January, the Longhorns (19-10, 10-7 Big 12) have done some catching up. Sitting just one game behind Oklahoma State in the Big 12, Texas’ hope lies in rebounding.

Oklahoma State outrebounded Texas 40-38 on Jan. 2, and the teams tied with 28 points a piece in the paint. But Texas now tops the Cowgirls’ 2.6-rebound advantage in conference play. This is where Enemkpali, who averages 8.8 rebounds per game, will have to rise to the occasion.

Aston said the team’s rebounding struggled in Stillwater, Okla., and depended heavily on Enemkpali.

“It was significant when [Enemkpali] got her fourth foul because she’s such a terrific offensive rebounder,” Aston said. “I really thought we lost all of our offensive rebounding during that stretch when she was out of the game. We just had to try some combinations that were, to say the least, very inexperienced.”

Most of these combinations have gained experience in the 16 conference games since Stillwater. But the Cowgirls haven’t sat idly, either, as their top-15 ranking shows.

Though the ranking gap looks large nationally, Texas has a chance to catch Oklahoma State in the Big 12 on Monday night. With senior night and their conference standing on the line, the Longhorns have a lot to prove.

Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali grabs one of seven rebounds as Texas' strong second half brought the team a win against Iowa State. In the second half, Enemkpali grabbed five rebounds and scored six points for a 71-64 victory. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

With the blaring support of an energized crowd and junior forward Nneka Enemkpali’s leadership, the Longhorns beat Iowa State 71-64 on Sunday, pushing their home win streak to 10 games.

Throughout the tight game, head coach Karen Aston alternated pacing the sidelines and squatting by Texas’ bench. Each time she stepped on the court, Aston motioned with animation and frustration to her players.

“It was not one of our best games and definitely not, in the first half, one of our better efforts,” Aston said. “But I’m really proud of our resilience and our ability
to dig deep.”

Promotions, such as Medical Community Night and Teacher Appreciation Day, bolstered attendance, as did a significant cluster of red in the Iowa State section. Though the crowd didn’t fill the massive Frank Erwin Center, and the average age of attendees was well above the average Texas student’s age, the Longhorns still attributed their motivation to the crowd’s energy.

“I thought the crowd today was awesome,” sophomore guard Brady Sanders said. “I feel like they’re just getting better and better as conference goes on, and I think that goes along with winning. They got really loud there at the end, and I think that was a huge key factor to us keeping
the energy going.”

The Longhorns struggled out of the gate with sloppy play and uncoordinated offensive and defensive fronts. As Texas dug itself into a hole, the team feared it was too deep to climb out.

But a strategic time-out midway through the first period seemed to help Texas clean up its act as the Longhorns began making shots, including a nice 3-pointer from junior guard Krystle Henderson to shrink the Iowa State lead to five. Paired with the beginnings of a defensive effort, Texas caught up with Iowa State after trailing for more than 10 minutes. The Longhorns finally emerged from their lingering deficit with a Sanders 3-pointer to put them up by one with 2:55 left in the second half.

The 3-pointer brought the crowd to its feet — a position it maintained through the last four minutes of the game. The game came down to crucial free throws by sophomore guard Empress Davenport, Sanders and Enemkpali. Each of the ladies sunk their shots and secured the last possession of the game to grab a
tenuous Texas victory.

Texas will next take on Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., on Wednesday.

Despite an up and down season for the Longhorns, the energy of sophomore Brady Sanders has fueled the charge.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

When sophomore guard Brady Sanders suits up for each game, she knows she owes more than 40 minutes of play to her teammates. 

As the self-described “energy player” on the team, Sanders doesn’t just average the most minutes (25.8) on the court. And she doesn’t just boast the best 3-point field goal percentage on the team. Sanders makes sure that before the game, during and after, she’s the loudest and proudest competitor there is.

“I hope [competitors] say, ‘That girl never stops,’” Sanders said. “‘She plays 40 minutes, she’ll keep going at you even if her shot’s not falling and she’s an energy player.’”

More often than not, Sanders’ shot is falling. Averaging 11.8 points per game through the last four games, she executes her own offense. But she also feeds her teammates both words of encouragement and the ball. Against Texas Tech, Sanders led the team with four assists. It is those fundamentals she takes pride in.

“I make the hustle plays, do the little things that sometimes goes unnoticed but to me and to the team, I know they’re important,” Sanders said. “As long as everyone’s contributing to the team, I’m not the type of person to need all the attention.”

And yet, Sanders garners significant attention from her teammates as she emerges as the vocal leader of the team. She said the personalities among the team require her to “yell to get her voice heard.” But head coach Karen Aston sets Sanders’ words apart from her teammates.

“She’s very loud, doesn’t mind talking a lot on defense and ‘leading,’ so to say,” Aston said. “[She] understands that’s what her role is.”

Sanders doesn’t just sport a loud voice. She’s naturally animated, too, whether it’s her fist pump or kicking her legs after drawing a charge.

“I can’t control what I do,” Sanders said. “I just get so excited and caught up in the moment — literally something just comes over me. I just have a huge passion for basketball and even if it’s not me doing something good, I just get so excited for my teammates.”

Sanders’ teammates get excited for her, too. They’ve grown together since last year, as they play what Aston describes as a “maturity game.” Fellow sophomore Empress Davenport said they’ve learned together.

“Since we clocked so many minutes [last year], we know what to expect,” Davenport said.

But in its first season matchup against Iowa State on Sunday, Texas might not know what to expect. Before the Longhorns adjusted to the “maturity game,” the Cyclones swept them last season en route to a second-place finish in the Big 12. Texas (15-7, 6-4) has grown since then — and the team is just inches ahead of Iowa State (16-6, 5-6) in the competition.

Sanders thinks her team “beat ourselves in the games we lost,” and doesn’t think “there’s a limit on what we can be.” Come Sunday, Sanders will see how long Texas’ growth spurt will actually last.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Texas overpowered a slow defense Wednesday night to smother Texas Tech, 88-51. The Longhorns held a 48-4 scoring advantage in the paint to prove head coach Karen Aston that they are, in fact, “a lot better at home.”

“You can really tell the difference in our team’s personality and their comfort at home,” Aston said. “The crowds are growing and becoming a bigger part of it, but there’s no question that it’s made a difference for our team this year.”

Texas started off slow, allowing the Red Raiders (6-16, 0-11 Big 12) to score first off a foul shot by sophomore guard Brady Sanders. The teams exchanged leads three times in the first five minutes before the Texas offense took off on a 28-3 run. Texas scored 22 points in the paint, while shutting out Texas Tech’s interior presence but didn’t limit itself to inside shooting. Texas shot 75 percent from the free throw line and hit 46.7 percent of its shots from behind the arc.

“They’re getting more comfortable,” Aston said. “We’ve slowed down a bit but I thought we’d slowed down too much. I started calling a few more plays, trying to get back to our transition game.”

Texas’ comfort and big lead made it possible for 11 players to enter the game in the first half, 10 of whom scored and five of whom hit threes. Sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford’s perfect five shot attempts highlighted the half as she towered above defenders. Texas finished the half up 51-22.

“Everyone was shooting around and feeling good before the game,” sophomore guard Empress Davenport said. “It had to do a lot with our focus.”

The Longhorns (15-7, 6-4 Big 12) continued to stretch their lead through the second half, as Davenport, Sanders and McGee-Stafford cruised to double figures in scoring. After struggling with just two points in 14 minutes against Baylor on Saturday, Davenport connected on 7 of 9 from the field to finish with 15 points. Though she said she “didn’t get as many rebounds as [she] needed to,” Aston thought Davenport’s comeback was crucial.

“It was really important she had a good game,” Aston said. “It’s a maturity game. She played a very solid game, was focused and kept her emotions in check.”

Texas showed why it leads the Big 12 in 3-point field goal percentage. The Longhorns also improved their conference best field goal percentage defense as they restricted the Red Raiders to a mere 26 percent shooting. 

“We focus every day on getting better offensively,” Aston said. “I think it’s evident that every day we are getting better, more comfortable with the system and with each other.”

Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali weaves through defenders to score 15 points against West Virginia on Saturday. Enemkpali also secured a Big 12 season-high 21 rebounds in the Longhorns' 66-63 win. 

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Coming off a loss against TCU, Texas knew what happens when it doesn’t play well for a half. It also knew what No. 18 West Virginia (17-3, 6-2 Big 12) was capable of, as the Mountaineers had handed the Longhorns a painful overtime loss just two weeks earlier.

So Texas did what head coach Karen Aston has been begging it do: It got hungry.

Texas (13-6, 4-3 Big 12) topped West Virginia, 66-63 at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday, handing the Mountaineers only their third loss of the season.

“Last time we played them at West Virginia, they won all the hustle plays,” junior forward Nneka Enemkpali said. “At home, we answered to them. We showed heart, and we played selfless.”

Grabbing a Big 12 season-high 21 rebounds to complement 15 points and two blocks, Enemkpali played with “motor and intensity,” Aston said.

“My job for the team is to be the big girl and be the aggressor,” Enemkpali said. “I knew I had to go in there and match [the aggression]. I couldn’t play timid.”

Enemkpali’s defensive efforts fueled freshman forward Nekia Jones’ and sophomore guard Brady Sanders’ offensive production. Jones scored 9 first-half points en route to her third game scoring in double figures. Sanders finished the first half with 12 points on 80 percent shooting from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line.             

“It was a complete team effort in the first half,” Aston said. “I thought especially Brady [Sanders] and Nekia [Jones] gave us a lift and that everybody that came in in the first half really gave us great energy.”

That energy — along with 50 percent shooting and four 3-point shots — put Texas up 40-33 in halftime. But a 10-0 West Virginia run to start the second half shifted the momentum against the Longhorns. The two Big 12 contenders juggled leads for the remainder of the game until Texas denied all Mountaineer field goals for the last 7:49. The Longhorns regained their advantage with just over three minutes remaining. A big block from Enemkpali and shutout defense gave Texas the victory. 

“We’ve learned that execution is really important,” Aston said. “Every game is going to take execution in the last three or four minutes … making free throws and crucial rebounds down the stretch. That’s what all of these games are amounting to, and that’s probably how this is going to be.”            

The Longhorns finished 14-for-19 from the charity stripe and outrebounded the Mountaineers 46-27. West Virginia’s rebounding total fell 10 below its Big-12 average and 15 below its season average.

With its third win over a ranked opponent this season, Texas will take on Kansas and Baylor this week as it hopes to improve its 1-4 road record. 

When sophomore guard Brady Sanders subbed in with 2:31 left Thursday night, the Longhorns were down 21 points to Syracuse. Sanders didn’t let it faze her, though, draining a trifecta of 3-pointers and a free throw to bring her team within 10.

The Longhorns still fell to the Orange but used the near comeback as motivation to beat No. 11 Texas A&M and Memphis before leaving the Virgin Islands.

“I think some players didn’t have much of a sense of urgency today,” head coach Karen Aston said.    

Texas allowed four Syracuse players to reach double-figures as a five-point halftime deficit grew. A season-high 23 turnovers were the main culprit — the Orange notched 24 points off turnovers alone.

Texas regrouped before Friday, as it trumped the Aggies 69-58. Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali led the Longhorns with 20 points and 11 rebounds in her second double-double this season. Freshman center Kelsey Lang chipped in with 10 points during her first start.

“We did an excellent job coming off a loss from last night and not dwelling on it,” Sanders said. “Everyone really understood what this rivalry means even though we’re not in the same conference.”

Sanders performed well in each of the weekend games, connecting on another three three-pointers against A&M and two against Memphis on Saturday in the Longhorns’ 65-36 win. She finished the weekend 9-for-16 behind the arc, paired with what Aston described as “terrific defense” in which the Longhorns followed the game plan and were “extremely focused on responding to scouting reports.” 

Lang hit another career-high 12 points with perfect second-half shooting. While Lang said her teammates’ support was key in calming her nerves, Aston said Lang brings a new dimension to her teammates as well.

“Lang has opened up some room for Nneka because she has the ability to space the floor a little bit differently than our other post players do,” Aston said. “She has a good feel in the post and she’s a smart player.”

Texas faces Arkansas-Little Rock on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Frank Erwin Center.