Tears filled the eyes of senior GiGi Mazionyte as she stepped onto the court squeezing tightly onto her family’s hands. The crowd cheered as the announcer announced that Mazionyte — along with seniors Chassidy Fussell, Helen Tau and Ashley Roberts — was playing in her final regular season game.
It seemed fitting that No. 18 Oklahoma State was the regular season finale. The Longhorns opened conference play with a close 61-67 loss to the Cowgirls and closed it Monday night with a 65-58 win.
The win gives Texas the third spot in the Big 12 ranking going into postseason play but, more impressively, gives the Longhorns their 21st win of the season.
“I’m really proud of our basketball team tonight,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I have always thought, as a coach, that [20 wins] is the symbol of a good basketball team.”
Although it was a big game against a ranked opponent, it was important to Aston to honor her seniors. Tau and Roberts, who usually sit firmly on the bench for the majority of games, found their names on the starting roster Monday night.
“I think that is something that those players always remember,” Aston said. “Some of them have not had the opportunity to run through that tunnel this year, so it was important to me, and I’m sure it was to them.”
Tau returned to the bench at the 17:40 minute mark with a smile stretched across her face and a cheer from the stands while Roberts trotted back with 16:29 to go in the first. Both eventually jogged back to the court with Texas in the lead with about 50 seconds left.
“Just to see them smile — [especially Tau],” Fussell said. “She has the biggest smile on the team. We told her to shoot the ball. We didn’t care if she made it or missed. It’s just great to see my teammates out there.”
Texas started off the game quick and aggressive. Freshman forward Nekia Jones set the tone and brought up the energy within seconds of checking into the game with a 3-pointer immediately followed by an acrobatic layup.
The second half got off to a slow start. The Longhorns were initially sloppy, misdirecting passes straight into the hands of Cowgirls. Oklahoma State fought hard to cut the Longhorns’ lead, but Texas pushed back just as hard to maintain the lead for its seniors.
“All we talked about before the game was just playing for the seniors, no matter what,” Fussell said.