Kristen Nash

Womens Basketball

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and on Tuesday night in the Erwin Center it was a tale of two halves as Texas trailed for most of the opening period but came back to win 67-55 against Nebraska.

The game began with a number of offensive miscues. Texas put itself in a position to take the open jumpers they are usually so good at, but the Longhorns’ 27 first-half points to Nebraska’s 21 came painstakingly.

“We started out flat missing our jumpers,” said Texas coach Gail Goestenkors. “I thought we were going to come out with the attack mindset, so I was kind of surprised we started out so slowly.”

Senior forward Kristen Nash blamed Texas’ slow start on a lack of poise.

“In the first half I was missing a lot of passes and didn’t feel as though I had my confidence,” Nash said. “We pulled together at halftime and got things turned around.”

Turn things around they did. The Longhorns’ sub-par 36-percent shooting effort in the first period was countered with a 53-percent effort in the second and leading the way for the umpteenth time this season was potential freshman Player of the Year candidate Chassidy Fussell.

“I think that [Fussell] came in with the attitude that she wanted to contribute right away, and that is definitely what she is doing,” said junior guard Yvonne Anderson of Fussell’s play this year. “She is very consistent on the offensive floor.”

Fussell and Anderson both posted a team-high 17 points. Kristen Nash added eight points and a very important 10 rebounds.

Part of Texas’ second-half surge came at the heels of its up-tempo style of play it loves to utilize.
That second-half energy helped the Longhorns force turnover after turnover.

“Their defensive pressure was a real key,” said Nebraska coach Connie Yori. “You can’t turn it over 25 times against anybody. We were chasing them down the court ... You can’t guard somebody when you are chasing them.”

Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore led the Cornhuskers with 18 points, but also committed eight turnovers.

With the Longhorns getting the victory against the Cornhuskers in what was likely their final Big 12 match-up against each other, Texas gained some much needed momentum heading into a gauntlet stretch of games. Currently fifth in the conference, they will face three ranked opponents in their final five games, with rival Oklahoma waiting for them Saturday.

“In the second half we came out with a lot more energy and focus,” Goestenkors said. “That’s the way we need to play for 40 minutes heading into this road stretch.”

Kristen Nash has some unfinished business with the Longhorns.

For the fifth-year senior, being given a second chance to return to Texas has great meaning.

“I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team,” Nash said. “This time around, it’s not about the points for me. I am just here to rebound and do what Coach tells me to do.”
After commencement last May, Nash retired her basketball shoes for the books at 23 years old and never thought about rejoining the squad.

She longed for the experience of being a “regular student” and worked to remain focused on her studies.

But on Dec. 12, right as her first semester of graduate school was coming to an end, Nash watched her former team take a beating against a tough Tennessee squad.

At that time in the season, Texas’ faults were slowly being exposed, and their original game plan of running-and-gunning was not going as planned against stronger, ranked opponents.

Following the game, head coach Gail Goestenkors texted Nash offering her a spot back on the team.

Nash soon realized that her time spent on the hardwood was far from over.

“It never crossed my mind that I would be back on the team,” she said. “After coach asked me, I thought about it, and realized it felt right.”

But before giving Goestenkors her final decision, Nash knew she needed to talk to the person who knows her best — her sister Kathleen, who goes by Kat.

“We live together, so we still see each other,” Kat said. “But we were just at home, and then the text came in from Coach. I knew she was kind of missing it, and I was like, ‘We really need you, but it’s your decision. It’s a lot of work, but if you want to come back, we could use you.’”

Naturally for Kristen, making her ultimate decision to return came easily, especially after the encouragement that came from her sister.

For the 6-foot-3-inch Kristen, who had not touched a basketball since last March, returning to the run-and-gun game that primarily makes up Texas’ offensive strategy was an eye-opener.

“Coming back in December, it was definitely a huge adjustment,” she said. “I was not in basketball shape, so I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team out.”

But Kristen has been a crucial asset in Texas’ second half of the season, as she brings an element of grit and hustle, carrying out much of the dirty work for the squad.

“She comes in and always plays her heart out. She’s been huge for us in rebounding,” Kat said. “It’s really nice to have another post to step in there because I was having to play a lot of minutes.”

So for Kristen, a vital asset to her squad’s recent winning streak, it is still all about doing whatever she can to help.

Kristen and Kat return home Sunday in hopes of continuing their winning ways against Colorado at 2 p.m.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I have a lot of unfinished business to take care of.”

The Longhorns ventured into hostile Red Raider territory Wednesday night and handed Texas Tech its first home loss of the season, 75-67, thanks to a strong rebounding effort.

“It’s all we worked on,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “We take great pride in our rebounding. They’re an excellent team. They haven’t lost at home, but I am proud of the way we withstood their runs.”

Withstand the Longhorns did, as they outrebounded Tech 43-26. The Red Raiders are currently second in the Big 12 in rebounding margin.

Dominating the backboards on Wednesday was crucial for Texas (13-7, 2-4 Big 12), a team that was outrebounded 52-31 in its win over Oklahoma State.

There was no question that the two sides were equal opponents, as it became a game of runs and
lead changes.

The Longhorns opened the game strong with a 5-0 run, but a pair of steals for the Lady Raiders led to their own 9-0 run seven minutes in.

For the second game in a row, Ashley Gayle dominated on defense for Texas, finishing with six blocks. The junior forward now has 250 blocks in her career at Texas, tying for second most all-time. Gayle is only 39 blocks short of tying the all-time record held by former Longhorn Ellen Bayer.

“The emphasis tonight was on rebounding,” said senior Kristen Nash. “We focused on boxing out our people and rebounding the ball, and I think that showed tonight.”

Scoring runs continued to define the first and second halves. Tech went on an 8-0 run to finish out the first half of the game, while the Longhorns went on a 6-0 run in the middle of the second half.

The Longhorns were steered yet again by freshman Chassidy Fussell who led Texas scorers with 22 points. She made six of 13 field goals to go along with eight rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and a steal.

With less than a minute to play, Fussell hit a tough three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock running out. She immediately followed it up with a crucial defensive stop, driving another nail in the Raiders’ coffin.

For a squad that before last Sunday was winless in conference play, the back-to-back wins seemed to boost Texas’ confidence.

“I think we’ve gained a lot of confidence [tonight],” Nash said. “We aren’t looking too far forward, just at our next game, and that’s our focus.”

The squad that prepared all week by working on rebounding started the contest on the glass and ended it there in one of their most dominant performances on the boards all season.

“Hopefully they understand how important rebounding really is,” Goestenkors said. “Because that was the difference.”

As the Texas women’s basketball players and coaches fielded questions during the team’s first press conference on Tuesday, there seemed to be a reoccurring theme: coping.

Despite being knocked out of the first round of the NCAA tournament by San Diego State last March, Texas coach Gail Goestenkors had high hopes for her team in the off-season. However, a season-ending injury to post player Cokie Reed left a Texas-sized hole in the lineup. So in a Big 12 conference that seems to be getting bigger and stronger, Goestenkors acknowledges that the team is shuffling to make up for the loss.

“We know Cokie, she was in great shape, in much better shape than she was in her entire freshman year,” Goestenkors said. “We were going to be a power team. Now we have got to change what we were planning to do, and do what is best for these young ladies to be successful.”

The scrambling process obviously includes finding players to fill the post position. Reed was supposed to split minutes with Ashley Gayle, a 6-foot-4-inch junior from Las Vegas. Goestenkors was also expecting Kristen Nash to return for a fifth year, who’s size would have also helped. Now Goestenkors has to rely on heavy minutes from Gayle as well as untested freshman Anne Marie Hartung.

Despite the lack of depth, Goestenkors is not discouraged, and feels both Gayle and Hartung will be options in the Longhorns’ new run-and-gun style of play.
“Anne Marie is going to learn and grow into the position,” she said. “She will play significant minutes.”

Another part of the coping process for this team goes beyond dealing with the loss of pivotal players. The second step is coping with the rigors of the Big 12 with a small, young team.

Hartung is among five freshmen on this year’s squad. And with more than half the team being underclassmen, questions remain over whether Texas can make a splash in the Big 12.

Senior Kathleen Nash will take on an even larger role in the offense this year, as she expects to shuffle through every position on the court during games.

“I might have to play one through five [positions] a lot more,” Nash said. “I’ll need to expand my game, to be able to post and handle the ball more.”

Nash’s expanded role is a part of the Longhorn’s new emphasis on playing up-tempo. The team has been working on extra conditioning drills to keep in shape.

“We are just running more,” Nash said. “If we aren’t running, we are scrimmaging. We have more minutes at the end of practice where we do conditioning, so we know we will always do that on top of everything else. But we know it’s necessary.”

The development of the team’s freshmen is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary off-season.

Freshman guard Tiffany Moore is expected to play significant minutes once she recovers from a hand injury suffered during practice. She said the pressure of playing for a big-time program is nothing new to her and her young teammates.

“I don’t really believe there is any [pressure] at all,” Moore said. “We all work hard, so we are kind of used to and immune to it by now. Coach G wants players who play hard, work hard and give time in the gym, so there really is no pressure at all as a freshman.”

Of course, part of fighting the pressure off is to build a strong sense of camaraderie.

Moore was excited to spill all about her teammate’s habits, quirks and even nicknames.

“I think [Chassidy Fussell] is bionic ... She lifts like thousands of pounds,” Moore joked. “A.M. [Hartung] is nice off the court, but on the court she is scary, she’s ferocious.”