Karen Aston

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford stepped up last weekend averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Longhorns’ two wins last weekend to set up a showdown with UConn on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Update: Texas faces Connecticut at 11 a.m. Follow us at @texansports for live-tweets from the game, and check back here afterward for post-game coverage.

After a season marked by injuries and other setbacks, Texas’ chances at a postseason run looked slim — but two weeks into the NCAA Tournament, the Longhorns have yet to falter.  

“We’re excited to go to the Sweet 16,” head coach Karen Aston said. “There was a point in time where I don’t think anybody saw this coming at all. They thought we were done. I really can’t say enough about our staff and our players who were willing to do whatever they had to do for us to get to a better spot.”

Fifth-seeded Texas (24–10) now faces another daunting task. Saturday’s regional semifinal matchup puts the Longhorns against the team many pundits predict will win it all — Connecticut. They’re the top overall seed, two-time defending champions, and a team Texas has never been able to beat. 

UConn (32–1) has the top-rated scoring offense and defense in the nation, averaging nearly 90 points a game offensively and only allowing about 48 points per game. The Huskies have also advanced to the regional final, otherwise known as the Elite Eight, every year for nine years.

Its only loss this year was to Stanford in November. Days later, Texas defeated Stanford.  

Much has changed for the Longhorns since that victory. The team went through a rough patch, starting 4–8 in conference play. But more recently, they’ve hit their stride; Texas won nine of its last 11 games.

“I think our team is really resilient,” Aston said. “We’re not where we want to be, obviously, but we’re making progress.”

In their first two NCAA Tournament games, the Longhorns forced 33 turnovers and outscored their opponents in the paint, 94–34. But the games still remained close. Texas only defeating first-round opponent Western Kentucky by two points and beat California, in the next round, by three.

That is one reason Texas will rely on its defense and receive contributions from its bench, which has outscored its two previous opponents’ bench, 54–15.

“Defense is something we’ve tried to focus on and make it our identity,” said junior center Imani McGee-Stafford, who has secured back-to-back double-doubles during NCAA Tournament play. “We just tried to focus on what makes us, us in the second half [against Cal]. [And] you never really know who could start for us. That’s the beauty of us right now; we are very deep, and whoever we need to matchup with, we can.” 

Texas will continue to look for production from McGee-Stafford, as well as from freshman Brooke McCarty, who is coming off the bench averaging 13 points in the tournament.

“I think I just had to go out there and start playing [because] I was really nervous at first,” McCarty said. “I think I just had to get over my nerves. My teammates have really helped me and just believed in me.”

Texas and UConn tip off the Albany Regional Sweet 16 on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford lays the ball up against Oklahoma. McGee-Stafford finished with 11 points and 10 boards as Texas advances to the Big 12 tournament conference finals.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Texas has become quite familiar with deficits this season. But down by 6 points late in the second half Friday, Texas started to streak.

With the game tied with less than 20 seconds to go, a Lady Toppers foul sent freshman guard Brooke McCarty to the charity stripe, where she sank both free throws to help Texas hang on to a 66-64 victory over Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I told our players after the game that this was obviously a hard-fought win, and it was nothing to be ashamed of that it went to the wire because I was so impressed by [Western Kentucky] … ,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I knew they would present problems for us from a matchup perspective.”

The game featured 10 lead changes, with each team leading for about 18 minutes each. Texas’s defense held the Lady Toppers to 29 percent shooting in the opening period, but 13 first-half turnovers by the Longhorns kept the game close early.

“We stopped turning the ball over in the second half and started attacking and that was really ultimately the difference, Aston said. “I am proud of our players for holding in there, and it wasn't easy with first-game jitters. I thought we really held in there.”

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford, who started against Western Kentucky, picked up a double-double, scoring a season-high 24 points and grabbing 15 boards. She said the game scenario seemed all too familiar.

“We were in the huddle in the last four minutes, and I just kept thinking to myself, ‘We've been here before. We've been here before. We've come back from 6 or 8 points with just a little bit of time left,’” McGee-Stafford said. “So I think it's good knowing that we are able to come back, and we have the experience from games earlier in the season.”

Texas has come from behind to win in multiple games this season. Aston's lineup change gave the Longhorns NCAA tournament experience, as Friday’s starting five was the 12th different lineup in 33 games this season.

“I think because of the experience we have, we know how hard we have to push because we have lost games like this,” McCarty said. “So we just thought back to those games every time we were in the huddle, and we just pushed and pushed and pushed, and we came out with the win.”

The first-round win gives the Longhorns their 23rd victory of the season, the team’s most since the 2003-2004 season.

“I think getting this win under our belt is a great confidence booster for this team, and obviously, every game we can play is a positive for this program,” Aston said.

The Longhorns look to continue their momentum into the second round, as they face No. 4 California at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. The winner moves on to the Sweet 16.

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford throws up a shot in Texas’ 75–64 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game. McGee-Stafford scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds against the Bears.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

After a long, injury-prone season, the Longhorns returned to Austin just shy of a Big 12 title.  

For the first time since 2004, Texas advanced to the Big 12 Championships finals, defeating Oklahoma and TCU along the way, but the Longhorns fell to Baylor, 75–64, Monday night at the American Airlines Center. 

“First of all, I just want to say how proud I am of our basketball team,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I’m very, very proud, but I’m disappointed we didn’t play better tonight.”

No. 1-seeded Baylor started with a six-point lead on No. 6-seeded Texas, but the Longhorns soon got on the board. They traded 6–0 runs to start things off before the Bears pulled away.Several key drives and three pointers from Junior guards Celina Rodrigo and Brady Sanders kept Texas in play in the first 20 minutes, and the Longhorns went into halftime behind, 40–35.

But two minutes into the second half, Baylor increased its halftime lead to nine ahead of Texas, who was the preseason favorite to win the conference title. But with the help of Baylor’s Nina Davis and Imani Wright, who each had 14 points halfway through the second half, the Bears’ lead grew to 18 after a four-minute Texas scoring drought. 

Baylor eventually went on to claim its fifth consecutive — and seventh overall — Big 12 title.

“Baylor was more efficient tonight in every area,” Aston said. “When they’re shooting pretty well, it’s hard to beat them.”

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford led the Longhorns in scoring, putting 15 on the board and grabbing 10 rebounds. Junior guard Empress Davenport was the only other Longhorn to score in the double digits with 13.

“I haven’t beaten Baylor yet,” McGee-Stafford said. “At the end of the day, they put more points up. This game was frustrating because obviously we wanted a championship.”

The Longhorns still has the NCAA Tournament which begins on March 20, ahead of them. Texas will find out what position they are seeded on March 16.  

“I think we’re all pretty confident [on going into NCAA],” said Rodrigo. “We’re going to build on this.”

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford lays the ball up against Oklahoma. McGee-Stafford finished with 11 points and 10 boards as Texas advances to the Big 12 tournament conference finals.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

A stifling defense is what wins the Longhorns games — and possibly even championships. 

In the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship semifinal against Oklahoma on Sunday, Texas held the Sooners to 26 percent shooting — their worst shooting percentage all season. The Longhorns scored 18 points off 22 turnovers and defeated their rival, 59–46.

Despite an injury-filled season, Texas, the preseason favorites to win the Big 12, now sits in the final game Monday with a chance to fulfill that prophecy.

“I would say that this was just a team effort defensively,” head coach Karen Aston said.  “A lot of players made some plays for us, but I thought the difference in the game was our team defense.”

The Texas defense held Oklahoma to just 8-of-30 shooting in the second half, while the offense ended the game converting eight of 10 baskets in the final 10 minutes.

Despite boasting more underclassmen, Texas’ experienced players paved the way for Texas.

Junior guard Brady Sanders tied the team high with 11 points, going 2-of-2 from the 3-point line. In the second half, junior guard Celina Rodrigo and senior guard Krystle Henderson could not miss from the perimeter, combining for four 3-point baskets. Texas shot a season-high 50 percent — 6-of-12 — from behind the arc.

The Longhorns used their depth to open up the game. The Texas bench scored 32 of the team’s 59 points. Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford came off the bench to collect a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. 

“We have [junior guard Empress Davenport] coming off the bench, who has been a three-year starter, and we made the decision to bring Imani off the bench also,” Aston said.  “You can’t start but five, and those two have accepted their roles, and they’re really the difference in our team right now. And you have Celina and Krystle coming off the bench, so our bench is strong.”

Despite a 4–8 start to conference play, Texas has won seven of its last eight games. The team seems to have caught a groove and the players have become familiar with their roles.

Well, the journey has been tough, but we overcame the adversity that was put upon us, and I think that’s what it’s all about,” sophomore guard Brianna Taylor said. “Basketball is a game of up and downs, and it’s how you handle it, so I think that we’re handling it pretty well now.”

This is the first time since 2004 that Texas will play in the conference championship final. Texas faces Baylor, who won both regular season matchups against Texas, on Monday. 

“It’s going to be a good game, a fun game, and we’ve been waiting for this chance, so we’re going to redeem ourselves,” Henderson said.

The game is set for 8 p.m. at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. 

“I think third time’s a charm, so we’re going to get them [and] we’re going to beat them,” Taylor said. “That’s my mindset.”

Sophomore center Kelsey Lang had 19 points and 10 rebounds in her second double-double of the season. She helped the Longhorns outscore TCU 36–10 in the paint.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Texas made a statement Tuesday night — just ahead of the Big 12 tournament.

The Longhorns jumped all over TCU in the second half to win by 34 and send a message to the rest of the conference.

“I believe we are better than anybody in this league,” head coach Karen Aston said.

And when the Big 12 tournament begins Friday, TCU will once again have to face off in the quarterfinals against a Texas squad that is firing on all cylinders. 

“I’m looking for hungry dogs,” Aston said of her team’s fight heading into tournament play.

However, the final score, 79–45, doesn’t tell the whole story. The game wasn’t a rout during the first half. 

Maybe Texas was still sluggish from its overtime loss in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Sunday. Or maybe its nine turnovers helped keep the Horned Frogs (17–12, 9–9 Big 12) close in the first half. Either way, the Longhorns (20–9, 9–9 Big 12) led by just 5 points at halftime despite an 11-point burst from junior guard Brady Sanders.  

“We need to play attention to detail,” Aston said.

The team took Aston’s advice in the second half as they came out and executed almost flawlessly, turning the ball over just four times. 

Behind sophomore center Kelsey Lang’s 13 points and eight rebounds in the second half, Texas rolled as it made up for its loss to TCU earlier in the year. The Longhorns outscored TCU by 29 in the half, shooting 55 percent from the field and holding the Horned Frogs to a meager 25 percent.

Texas took advantage of its size, going to the rim on offense and keeping TCU outside. Texas outscored TCU in the paint by a wide 36–10 margin and forced TCU to jack up 22 from deep, where they made just three shots. Lang finished with her second double-double of the season, as she tallied 19 points and 10 boards. 

Apart from Lang, the rest of the scoring was balanced. The bench had itself a nice game, outscoring TCU’s sideline, 33–6.

Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford had 9 points and four blocks. Sophomore guard Brianna Taylor also chipped in on the glass, bringing down 10 rebounds. 

While Texas’ scoring came from many sources, TCU’s offense was bunched. Junior guard Zahna Medley, junior forward Veja Hamilton and senior guard Natalie Ventress combined for 39 of TCU’s 45. The rest of the team shot 1-of-25 from the field and 3-of-9 from the free-throw line.

The win came on an emotional night that honored the team’s seniors: forward Nneka Enemkpali and guard Krystle Henderson. Enemkpali tore her ACL earlier in the year, effectively ending her college career. 

“Today is their day,” Aston said. “Our day.”

Senior guard Krystle Henderson and the Longhorns look to get their 20th win when they take on TCU on Senior Night.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns, a game away from their second consecutive 20-win season, will hit the court one last time at the Frank Erwin Center to host TCU on Tuesday.

The team, which currently sits at sixth place in the Big 12, is in jeopardy of losing the opportunity for a first-round bye in the conference tournament. 

But there’s even more on the line in this game. It’s Senior Night. 

But this go-around feels different without senior forward Nneka Enemkpali.

“She affected our whole team because of her leadership qualities,” head coach Karen Aston said. “She was really the mother of the team. That was difficult to lose at the point that we lost it. It was difficult to replace because there really wasn’t another personality as strong as Nneka with the maturity that she had.”

Enemkpali said her torn ACL injury has provided a lesson in overcoming adversity and given her perspective about her time on the court.

“I’m sad that I’m not physically able to play out there,” Enemkpali said. “But I think, looking back on the memories that I had at the Erwin Center, the interactions with the fans and support of my family and teammates — it’s going to be easier for me to take in that journey here is over.”

Senior guard Krystle Henderson will also play for the last time at Texas. Although she played two seasons at Wichita State, she said she will miss the time she spent with her teammates.  

“I know I didn’t come here for four years, but it’s definitely been a learning experience for me,” Henderson said. “I’m going to try not to cry, but I’m sure I’ll shed some tears.”

The team will try to bounce back after giving up a 14-point lead in overtime against West Virginia on Sunday.

“Our team has had problems with what I call sticking the knife in and really stepping on someone when you have somewhat some control of the game,” Aston said. “The most disappointing thing was how little we defended in the second half.”

Texas will look to stop a potent TCU offense that ranks third in the conference in scoring, averaging 70 points per game. TCU’s defense produces nearly 10 steals per game.

“For all of the young players, coming off of a tough road trip [with a] short turnaround, you would be looking for some sort of something to probably dig a little deeper with, and I would think that would be a great reason to do that,” Aston said.

The Longhorns lost their pervious matchup against the Horned Frogs last month by 5 points. They look to split the season series at 7 p.m. on the Longhorn Network.

Junior guard Empress Davenport led the Longhorns with 15 points in Texas’ 59-42 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. The victory takes Texas’ win streak to four games.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

With the help of its bench, Texas found its fourth consecutive victory Wednesday night.

The Longhorns tallied a total of 22 points from its bench players and recorded a 39 percent shooting percentage in its 59-42 win over Oklahoma State.

“The last two games, our bench production has been really the difference in the games,” head coach Karen Aston said. “So them coming in and us not losing anything, and in fact gaining with them coming off the bench, has probably been a positive thing for us.”

Junior guard Empress Davenport, who received a standing ovation coming out of the game, led the Longhorns with 15 points, tying her career-high mark.  While she started earlier in the year during non-conference play, Davenport learned a lot from her time on the sideline. 

“Coming off the bench, you can see things,” Davenport said. “You can see openings like from the sidelines that they can’t really see running the game, so, from the sidelines, coach tells me to guard [players], and that’s what I tried to do.”

Despite Texas’ lack of boxing out and rebounding, the Cowgirls still had trouble on offense. Oklahoma State grabbed 14 offensive boards accounting for 11 second chance points. The Cowgirls out-rebounded the Longhorns 43-39, becoming just the second Texas opponent all season to accomplish that feat. 

The Texas defense held Oklahoma State to just 29 percent shooting. Despite Oklahoma State junior guard Brittney Martin and senior center LaShawn Jones combining for 34 points, star senior forward Liz Donohoe struggled throughout the game. Being heckled by the crowd with “airball” chants every time she touched the rock, Donohoe recorded only 2 points Wednesday night.

“[Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford] and [sophomore center] Kelsey [Lang] picked it up a lot in the second half,” Aston said. “I thought all the big guards did a good job of neutralizing Donohoe, who I think has been playing really well for them.”

Wednesday’s victory positions Texas (19–8, 8–8 Big 12) in a tie with Oklahoma State for third place in the Big 12. The Longhorns are now in position to have a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

Aston said the team will shift its focus to its upcoming game against West Virginia on Sunday. When the team returns for senior night Tuesday, seniors Nneka Enemkpali and Krystle Henderson will be back on the court to formally end their careers. 

“It should mean something to our fans to show up for [Enemkpali] because it is her final walk on the Erwin Center floor,” Aston said. “[Henderson] has accepted a role and been a big part of our program. These games mean something. We’re not just playing to be playing. I would like for everyone to understand that the crowd makes a big difference for us, and we need the win.”

Freshman guard Ariel Atkins has come up big for the Longhorns in their current three-game win streak. Teaming up with fellow freshman Brooke McCarty, the Longhorns are finding their groove again after a mid-season slump.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Winners of three-straight games, the Longhorns return home to face Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a new face sporting a jersey on the bench.

Junior guard Emily Johnson, who previously served as a team manager, will be joining the team. However, she will not compete this season, according to head coach Karen Aston.

Johnson will officially join the injury-prone Longhorns next season with two years of eligibility remaining.

The worst loss for the  Longhorns came with senior forward Nneka Enemkpali’s season-ending ACL tear in January. She  the surgery to repair the ACL last Wednesday.

“I think it’s the first of a two-part surgery,” Aston said. “We’ve acknowledged we want to play the remainder of the season on her behalf.”

After losing six of seven since Enemkpali went down, the Longhorns are finally settling in — on and off the court.

On the court, they have won three in a row. Off the court, Texas leads the conference with eight student-athletes named Thursday to the 2015 Academic All-Big 12 Conference Women’s Basketball Team.

Additionally, the Longhorns are seeing more productivity from the young leaders of the team. Freshmen guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty continue to deliver strong double-digit performances, proving themselves as key players to Texas’s offense.

Starting the past 10 games for Texas, McCarty was named Phillips 66 Big 12 Freshman of the Week. Both Atkins and McCarty have won the award twice.

Oklahoma State (18–8, 8–7 Big 12) head into Austin with a similar record to the Longhorns (18–8, 7–8 Big 12). In Stillwater, Oklahoma, for the first of the two matchups this year, the Cowgirls escaped 60–66.

The game will air on the Longhorn Network.

Junior guard Brady Sanders led Texas to its second-straight win Wednesday night, as the Longhorns gain confidence with the season winding down.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

After a year filled with injuries and adversity, Texas finds itself just three wins away from a 20-win season.

With four games remaining, the Longhorns (17–8, 6–8 Big 12) look to keep its recent momentum rolling against Texas Tech on Saturday in Lubbock.

After defeating Kansas State on Wednesday 76–58, Texas tallied its largest margin of victory since defeating Texas Tech last season. While the Longhorns have now won two back-to-back games, and head coach Karen Aston thinks every remaining game is winnable, the team is just focusing on Texas Tech for now.

“We don’t need to look past [the Texas Tech game] at all,” Aston said. “We just need to take one game at a time and finish as strong as we possibly can.”

After a season-ending injury to senior forward Nneka Enemkpali and after other scattered setbacks, the Longhorns feel a sense of urgency to finish the season on a winning note. Through the past few games, Texas feels it has started to regain control of its season.

“We finally have some positive momentum moving forward,” junior guard Brady Sanders said. “We’ve done a good job taking one practice at a time, one possession of a time and one game at a time. So now, we have to keep this positive energy going into Tech.”

Texas Tech (15–11, 5–9 Big 12) is coming off a 67–60 defeat by No. 3 Baylor on Wednesday. The Lady Raiders, who made a season-high of 11 three-pointers off 20 attempts, rank third in the conference in three-point field goal percentage, shooting at 35 percent this season.

Texas Tech is the sixth opponent to hold the Lady Bears to a single-digit victory this season. Tech ranks fifth in the conference in scoring defense, with opponents tallying an average of 59.1 points per game.

Texas will look to contain Tech senior guard Amber Battle, who leads the team with 16 points per game, while freshman forward Dayo Olabode averages a team-leading 6.2 boards per game.

Aston said the Longhorns feel they have started to hit a stride in their season.

“We are shooting the ball better and have better timing offensively,” Aston said. “We just look more comfortable with what we are doing. The tempo seems to have picked up for us just a little bit.”

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.”