Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder (46-15), is already a bastion of Longhorn dominance. Former Longhorn and OKC small forward Kevin Durant finished with 42 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals at the arena Tuesday night.
This weekend, head coach Karen Aston and her team look to channel the Longhorn dominance at Chesapeake in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship. With its first No. 3 seed since the 2004-2005 season, Texas (20-10, 11-7 Big 12) faces No. 6 Oklahoma Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.
“The fact that we’re now finishing third in the league, that’s significant,” Aston said after Texas trumped No. 18 Oklahoma State 65-58 Monday. “We locked up third place — sole possession of third. It was one our goals.”
Upper-tier Big 12 positioning wasn’t the only goal the Longhorns hoped to check off their list. They grabbed their first 20-win season in four years, which Aston said is the “symbol of being a good basketball team.”
Senior guard Chassidy Fussell, who finished Monday with 15 points and four rebounds in her final game at the Frank Erwin Center, echoed Aston’s sentiments.
“It’s just a really great feeling to get Texas back to where it’s supposed to be — a 20-win season, get back to the NCAA tournament and be on top,” Fussell said.
But the season isn’t over yet. And the Longhorn success that has positioned them well for the post-season will only mean so much if the Longhorns fall this weekend in Oklahoma City. The Red River Rivalry has run deep this year in women’s basketball, featuring a Texas 79-74 overtime win in Austin followed by a one-point loss (64-63) in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma’s No. 6 seed is almost deceiving, given the two teams appear neck and neck.
Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali led Texas in the Feb. 19 Norman matchup, shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor while finishing with 17 points and four rebounds, so the one-point deficit at the buzzer hit her hard.
“It’s really frustrating,” Enemkpali said. “We knew they had a great leader and we knew in order to win this game we had to be strong defensively. In the first half, we missed a lot of box outs and gave up offensive rebounds that kept them in the game.”
Each team’s coach recognized that the game could’ve gone either way. Aston noted the Sooners’ resilience, saying Texas was “out of sync and didn’t give the kind of effort necessary to win on the road.” Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said the win left her speechless, but she was focused on the next steps.
“It can be [a win to propel them],” Coale said. “It’s what we do with it next. Do you turn it into fire or do you let it sift away?”
The Sooners did a little bit of both as they finished their season with two more home wins but dropped the last two road contests. Saturday night, Texas must do its best to make the Sooners’ spark sift away.