Back in January, Texas fought valiantly against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State in an attempt to open conference play with a win. Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali contributed 18 points and nine rebounds to the battle, and sophomore guard Brady Sanders hit 10 second-half points in hopes of closing the gap. But the Cowgirls outlasted Texas with a 67-61 win.
Some things haven’t changed since then. Oklahoma State (22-6, 11-6 Big 12) still holds a top-15 ranking, while Texas hasn’t been ranked all season. Enemkpali is still playing well for Texas, scoring 19 points to complement nine rebounds against Texas Tech this weekend. And Sanders still explodes in the second half, as she notched 13 of her career-high 17 points Saturday after the half.
But with this leadership, one thing has changed: Texas has won conference games. And it’s won a lot of them at home. To name one, the Texas Tech team that competed to a 3-point game at buzzer Saturday lost by 37 at the Frank Erwin Center on Feb. 5. The inconsistency is striking. But the Longhorns’ home success should bode better for them Monday night than the rocky conference start.
“It was a competitive game, a little bit ugly,” head coach Karen Aston said of the Jan. 2 matchup. “It looked like the first game of the Big 12, a little bit slower pace than both teams play, just trying to figure out … the nerves of the first Big 12 game.”
Leaving the nerves and slow pace behind in January, the Longhorns (19-10, 10-7 Big 12) have done some catching up. Sitting just one game behind Oklahoma State in the Big 12, Texas’ hope lies in rebounding.
Oklahoma State outrebounded Texas 40-38 on Jan. 2, and the teams tied with 28 points a piece in the paint. But Texas now tops the Cowgirls’ 2.6-rebound advantage in conference play. This is where Enemkpali, who averages 8.8 rebounds per game, will have to rise to the occasion.
Aston said the team’s rebounding struggled in Stillwater, Okla., and depended heavily on Enemkpali.
“It was significant when [Enemkpali] got her fourth foul because she’s such a terrific offensive rebounder,” Aston said. “I really thought we lost all of our offensive rebounding during that stretch when she was out of the game. We just had to try some combinations that were, to say the least, very inexperienced.”
Most of these combinations have gained experience in the 16 conference games since Stillwater. But the Cowgirls haven’t sat idly, either, as their top-15 ranking shows.
Though the ranking gap looks large nationally, Texas has a chance to catch Oklahoma State in the Big 12 on Monday night. With senior night and their conference standing on the line, the Longhorns have a lot to prove.