Davenport’s growth fuels Texas’ Big 12 success

Jori Epstein

Sophomore guard Empress Davenport has left her nerves behind. She’s grown into her position on the court, not just adjusting to but also excelling at her role.           

“I think, since we clocked so many minutes last year, we know what to expect,” Davenport said of her sophomore class. “Now we need to hand it down to the freshmen. … The sky is the limit.”

Lately, Davenport has played up to her talents. She’s reached double figures in each of the last two games, including a career- and team-high 15 points off 7-for-9 shooting against the Red Raiders.

After Sunday’s 71-64 upset of Iowa State, head coach Karen Aston said Davenport helped “not only hit big shots,” but she also brought “a real life from an emotional standpoint.”

“I thought [Davenport] was a difference for us on [Iowa State guard] Jadda Buckley, who really hurt us in the first half,” Aston said. “We had to go with a lineup that was smaller and a little bit better defensively — so proud of them for making the adjustment.”     

For Davenport, an adjustment was nothing new. Davenport has altered her game at many points this year. She’s almost doubled her shooting percentage, from less than 26 percent in 2012-2013 to more than 42 percent this season. And she’s more than tripled her output from behind the arc — upping her shooting percentage from .118 to .394. But Davenport doesn’t focus on what she’s managed to improve. Instead, she points out what she could do better.

“I didn’t get as many rebounds as I needed to, but, as a whole, we’re trying to make the effort to get better,” Davenport said Feb. 5 after beating Texas Tech. “Everyone was taking shots, feeling good and it had to do with our focus and how it came into the game.”

Davenport’s rebounding average has dropped from 3.7 rpg last season to just 2.6 rpg this year. Though she still managed to grab five rebounds against Kansas on Jan. 15,  Davenport isn’t getting the boards she wants consistently. Instead, her teammates have stepped up down low. As Davenport makes the shots, a well-rounded inside game has transformed Texas into an in-paint power house. Through the last two games, the Longhorns boast a 40-8 points advantage in the paint. Pair that with a huge rebounding effort — a +12.3 advantage that’s good for fourth in the nation — and Big 12 rebounding leader Nneka Enemkpali (9.3 rpg) picks up where Davenport levels off.

As Texas (16-7, 7-4) treks to Manhattan to face the Wildcats (9-13, 3-8) on Wednesday, Davenport will have a chance to step up in what should be a slower game before Sunday’s highly touted matchup with No. 7 Baylor.