With Imani McGee-Stafford guarding the paint, Texas has a weapon no team in the Big 12 can match.
No one would dispute that claim after watching the 6-foot-7 sophomore score a career-high 24 points and grab 10 rebounds in a 70-58 victory over Kansas on Wednesday night at the Erwin Center.
Although it would be unfair to compare her to former Baylor All-America center Brittney Griner, McGee-Stafford owns a portfolio that would impress just about anybody outside of Waco.
Neither McGee-Stafford nor coach Karen Aston would say the tall post’s 24-10 game should become commonplace.
“Tonight Imani was defended one-on-one for most of the evening and those are the games she needs to produce,” Aston said. “She had a mindset from the get-to that she was going to have a presence tonight.”
McGee-Stafford’s presence was felt on both ends of the floor. Texas finished with advantages in total rebounds (43-26), offensive rebounds (22-8), and second-chance points (18-12).
“Our coaches have been telling me this week to be more aggressive on offense and to take shots when I have an opening,” Stafford-McGee said.
McGee-Stafford laughed when questioned about her ability to drive to the basket with her left hand and make simple layups, a move she made three times. It’s not a move she works on much.
“Maybe once a week,” Aston said.
Aston had plenty of reasons to soak in Wednesday’s victory. Texas is now 12-5 overall, 3-2 in the Big 12. The Horns finished the entire 2012-13 season with 12 victories.
The biggest difference?
“We have depth and we all buy in,” McGee-Stafford said. “We all understand that our coaches know what they’re talking about. There’s no dropoff when our starting five comes out. Today we had a new starting lineup, but you could never tell by the way we started the game.”
For the first time in 45 games, Texas opened a game without junior forward Nneka Enemkpali on the floor. Shaking up her lineup, Aston started junior forward Gigi Mazionyte and freshman forward Nekia Jones, and the Horns responded by taking an early lead and never trailing.
Jones, for one, said her teammates need to get the big girl more involved offensively.
“What is she, 6-7?” Jones said. “Anytime you have a player like that you have to get her the ball.”
One noticeable difference for Texas was its lack of turnovers. After committing an average of 26.5 turnovers in their last two games, the Longhorns had only four in the first half. Although Texas would finish with 15, the Horns were never challenged for the lead after the break.
Kansas (8-9, 1-4) got as close as 52-45 on a jumper by freshman forward Caelynn Manning-Allen with 11:30 remaining in the second half. Texas responded with three straight buckets — capped by a dribble-drive hoop by McGee-Stafford — to take a 58-45 lead.
This marked the fifth time McGee-Stafford has scored 20 points during her two seasons at Texas. In all five games, she has also contributed 10 or more rebounds.
Texas returns to Big 12 play Saturday at TCU.