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.”