Anderson the catalyst of late-season surge as Horns eye NCAA tournament bid

Nick Cremona

Experience and smart offensive possessions are the main ingredients in the Longhorns’ recipe to success this postseason. Senior guard Yvonne Anderson seems to be in all-out beast mode after a career night in her last game. If she can limit turnovers and take the wheel in the Longhorns transition offense, Texas has a chance to sneak up on some teams.

Sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell and senior guard Ashleigh Fontenette both benefit when Anderson is playing her best. Fussell is able to spot up and get her shot going and if Anderson can continue to score as much as she has, it takes some of the pressure off of Fussell.

Fontenette seems to feed off Anderson’s energy as well and is able to either run the point when Anderson needs a rest, or play on the wing where she can also knock down deep shots. Coach Gail Goestenkors summed up her thoughts on what her team needs to do to in order to avoid another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

“I think the seniors have set the tone,” Goestenkors said. “I’m very happy for them because they deserve this, and they wanted to make sure that they will be going to the NCAA Tournament and they’re doing everything in their power to make that happen.”

Turnovers have plagued this team from the very first game of the season. Anderson’s recent play has resulted in a considerable drop in turnovers, but the team still averages nearly 16 per game. Turnovers can’t become a hallmark of the Longhorns offense, as mistakes in March are only magnified.

Texas has had some issues rebounding at times this year as well, especially against the nation’s best teams. When a team is getting outrebounded, it tends to start to foul more, which has also been an area of concern for the Longhorns at times. Senior post Ashley Gayle leads the team in Rasheed Wallace’s favorite category: foul outs (five).

Overall, this is a pretty well-rounded team both inside and out of the paint, but Texas has shown a propensity of very streaky shooting performances. The team has shot around 41 percent from the field for the year, but when the shots aren’t falling, the Longhorns can get a little careless with their shot selection. It all goes back to smart decisions on the offensive end as the key to the Longhorns’ postseason survival chances.

Signature wins: Virginia, California, Michigan State, Texas A&M (2), Oklahoma

Bad losses: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas (2)

Key players:
Fussell, Anderson and Fontenette need to score near their season averages to keep the Longhorns in any game. Players like freshman forward Nneka Enemkpali will have a chance to shine as well. Enemkpali is fresh off a career-high 14-rebound performance against the Aggies and was the Longhorns’ second leading rebounder in conference play at 5.6 boards per game.

“She’s very athletic,” Gayle said of the freshman. “And I think she’s figured out the angles to rebounding and how to rebound at this level. I think she’s doing a great job.”

Gayle herself is also a player to keep an eye on. Gayle is the most experienced, but maybe the least offensively inclined of all the Longhorns post players. She’s averaged about five points and six rebounds this season. But, Gayle averages nearly three blocked shots per game which provides a presence down low that can’t be taken for granted.

Sophomore Chelsea Bass has been a reliable scoring option coming off the bench and has shown explosive attributes with the ball in her hands. Bass has played through some injuries this year, but is second on the team in free-throw percentage (.738).

Quotes to note:

“They hurt us with the guard play,” said A&M head coach Gary Blair after the Aggies’ latest loss to the Longhorns.

“They hurt us with the pick-and-roll. They hurt us with the offensive boards. They hurt us with energy.”

“We’ve started turning the corner, and we’re going in a different direction from the past,” Fontenette said. “I think [the program] is going to definitely build on this going into the next couple of years.”