Texas women’s basketball struggle through roller coaster holiday schedule

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Chassidy Fussell drives to the basket against top-ranked Baylor Sunday. The sophomore scored 20 points but Texas lost, 77-59.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

With a couple upset losses and a shocking conference victory, the presents under the Christmas tree weren’t the only surprises for the Texas women’s basketball team this holiday season.

The Longhorns couldn’t have asked for a better start to the break as they bounced back from a tough loss at Tennessee to defeat the Michigan State Spartans in the Big 12/Big Ten Challenge.

Head coach Gail Goestenkors liked how her team rebounded from the tough loss at the hands of the Lady Volunteers and saw her team’s victory over the Spartans as a great building block.

“I wasn’t too pleased with the way we started the game, but we showed great resiliency when we got down,” Goestenkors said. “I feel like we’ve grown a great deal. Michigan State is an excellent team, and they are very physical. When we got down, we met the adversity early on and we responded so well. We maintained our poise and control.”

Texas went on to win its final four nonconference games, all at home, by an average margin of 39 points. The team’s late-December dominance included back-to-back 50-plus point victories over Grambling State and Delaware State to close out the nonconference schedule.

“We have a great will to win and when we’re focused, I think we can do anything,” Goestenkors said. “We know what we’re capable of when our focus is there, when our energy is there. We’ve had games where we’ve had a tremendous post-play attack. We’ve had games where our guards have been excellent. And we’ve had a few games where we’ve put it together. The great news is that we are not even close to peaking yet. I think the team is very receptive and working hard and very determined. Now, we know it’s time for Big 12 play.”

Playing their best basketball of the season, the Longhorns were looking to open up conference play with a couple big victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State before heading to College Station for a big matchup with the Aggies. At their expense, things didn’t quite go as planned.

Texas struggled early in the conference opener against the Jayhawks and was unable to mount a comeback, dropping the game 72-67. After trailing by 23 with only 10 minutes left in the second half, the Longhorns were able to put together a run but it was too little too late.

“I am proud that we came back,” Goestenkors said. “But when you put yourself 23 down with 10 minutes left, it makes it difficult. That is something that we need to build upon and know that if we play 40 minutes like that, we might have a different outcome.”

It went from bad to worse for the Longhorns three days later in Stillwater. The Cowgirls, who at the time had the nation’s top defensive field goal percentage, held the Longhorns to just 13 field goals and 23 percent shooting from the field, both season lows. Oklahoma State turned great defense into good offense and was able to come away with a 70-51 victory and remain perfect at home.

After two of their worst performances of the year, it seemed as if it was all over but the crying for the Longhorns as they headed to College Station for a matchup with the defending national champions. Yet again, the Longhorns performance was surprising, but this time it was for the best.

Texas put together it’s most impressive 40 minutes of the season and ended it’s 11-game losing streak against Texas A&M with a 76-71 victory over the No. 12 Aggies on the road.

“That was one of our goals, to finally beat A&M,” said senior Ashley Gayle, who celebrated her 22nd birthday with a career-high 17 points. “Everyone was in attack mode. The fact that they’re defending national champions and with that being the last matchup at A&M — it made everyone more focused.”

After a tough loss at home to Brittney Griner and No. 1 Baylor on Sunday, the Longhorns are now 11-5 for the year. Their 1-3 conference record puts them third from the bottom of the Big 12 standings, ahead of only Missouri and Iowa State. They host the Cyclones this Wednesday at the Erwin Center.