Coming off a loss against TCU, Texas knew what happens when it doesn’t play well for a half. It also knew what No. 18 West Virginia (17-3, 6-2 Big 12) was capable of, as the Mountaineers had handed the Longhorns a painful overtime loss just two weeks earlier.
So Texas did what head coach Karen Aston has been begging it do: It got hungry.
Texas (13-6, 4-3 Big 12) topped West Virginia, 66-63 at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday, handing the Mountaineers only their third loss of the season.
“Last time we played them at West Virginia, they won all the hustle plays,” junior forward Nneka Enemkpali said. “At home, we answered to them. We showed heart, and we played selfless.”
Grabbing a Big 12 season-high 21 rebounds to complement 15 points and two blocks, Enemkpali played with “motor and intensity,” Aston said.
“My job for the team is to be the big girl and be the aggressor,” Enemkpali said. “I knew I had to go in there and match [the aggression]. I couldn’t play timid.”
Enemkpali’s defensive efforts fueled freshman forward Nekia Jones’ and sophomore guard Brady Sanders’ offensive production. Jones scored nine first-half points en route to her third game scoring in double figures. Sanders finished the first half with 12 points on 80 percent shooting from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line.
“It was a complete team effort in the first half,” Aston said. “I thought especially Brady [Sanders] and Nekia [Jones] gave us a lift and that everybody that came in in the first half really gave us great energy.”
That energy — along with 50 percent shooting and four 3-point shots — put Texas up 40-33 in halftime. But a 10-0 West Virginia run to start the second half shifted the momentum against the Longhorns. The two Big-12 contenders juggled leads for the remainder of the game until Texas denied all Mountaineer field goals for the last 7:49. The Longhorns regained their advantage with just over three minutes remaining. A big block from Enemkpali and shutout defense gave Texas the victory.
“We’ve learned that execution is really important,” Aston said. “Every game is going to take execution in the last three or four minutes … making free throws and crucial rebounds down the stretch. That’s what all of these games are amounting to, and that’s probably how this is going to be.”
The Longhorns finished 14-for-19 from the charity stripe and outrebounded the Mountaineers 46-27. West Virginia’s rebounding total fell 10 below its Big-12 average and 15 below its season average.
With its third win over a ranked opponent this season, Texas will take on Kansas and Baylor this week as it hopes to improve its 1-4 road record.