Wrapped inside a 27-point loss to top-ranked Baylor on Saturday were glimpses of maturity and effort that the Texas women’s basketball team had not shown this season.
At least that was the viewpoint of Longhorns coach Karen Aston, who has criticized her team at times for an inability to sustain effort. This time, Aston thought the 75-48 score did not indicate how competitive Texas looked for roughly 30 minutes of the Big 12 game.
“What I told the players in the locker room is that I’d like them to compete on a daily basis like they did for this game,” said Aston, who’s in her first season as Texas’ head coach. “That’s the preparation it takes every single day if you’re going to get somewhere” in the conference.
No one showed more heart than 6-foot-7-inch freshman center Imani McGee-Stafford, who outrebounded Baylor’s 6-8 senior All-American, Brittney Griner, by an 18-3 margin.
“Over the course of her career, I can see her becoming a great player,” Griner said.
The Horns (9-13, 2-9 Big 12) hope to exhibit the same positive energy they showed against Baylor when they play at Kansas State (12-11, 3-8) on Wednesday night.
Against the No. 1-ranked Lady Bears, freshman guard Empress Davenport and McGee-Stafford each scored 13 points, but Baylor’s experience and overall talent were too much to overcome.
While Davenport and fellow freshman Celina Rodrigo shared point guard duties Saturday, Baylor turned to junior All-America point guard Odyssey Sims, who led all scorers with 18 points and fueled a 22-4 spurt by the Lady Bears to finish the game.
“Our freshmen have an opportunity that’s unique,” Aston said. “They’re learning in the line of fire. I would think every Big 12 game is a learning experience.”
Davenport, who earned a UIL state championship last March while playing for Duncanville, agreed with her coach that the Longhorns do not always work hard. Davenport said the game against Baylor was preceded by one of the team’s most competitive weeks of practice.
“I don’t know how we got so pumped up” for Baylor, she said. “We should prepare for every game like we did this one.”
While Griner struggled with foul problems, she still scored 14 points, showing a knack for getting into position to take point-blank shots.
“We need for Imani to get into position where she shoots the ball one foot from the bucket, too,” Aston said. “Her ability to gain inside position will make for some easier shots.”
No shot looked easier than Griner’s two-handed dunk midway through the second half. After a quick pivot to break loose from McGee-Stafford, she made the shot uncontested on the left side of the rim.
Griner’s dunk led to this postgame exchange between McGee-Stafford and Aston:
The dunk “wasn’t on me,” McGee-Stafford said.
“Yes, it was,” the coach said.
“Well, it’s not like I’m going to be on a poster or anything like that,” the freshman center added.
“Do you see what I’m going to have to put up with the next three years?” Aston asked, smiling.
Texas at Kansas State, 7 p.m., 1300
About this game: Four high school seniors who will join the Longhorns next season have begun their final runs in the state playoffs: 5-foot-11-inch forward Nekia Jones of Beaumont Ozen, 6-4 center Kelsey Lang of The Woodlands, 5-9 guard Brianna Taylor of Spring Dekaney and 6-4 center Lilley VanderZee of Granbury. … Texas defeated the Wildcats 59-40 Jan. 26 in Austin. … Despite a season-high 34 points and 12 rebounds from Brittany Chambers, Kansas State lost to Iowa State 87-71 Saturday in Ames. Chambers recently became the ninth Wildcats player to record more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists in her career. … Kansas State (12-11, 3-8 Big 12) trails the series against Texas 13-11.