Texas must rise to the challenge of No. 7 Baylor

Jori Epstein

As losses become memories of the past, Texas’ improvement is evident in its conference schedule. In fact, the Longhorns — despite ending many games in single-digit margins — have won five of their last six contests.

But their recent loss against No. 7 Baylor is still nagging them.

It wasn’t really a close matchup. It wasn’t a single-digit margin. 

The Longhorns (17-7, 8-4 Big 12) showed promise against Baylor (21-3, 11-1 Big 12) in Waco on Feb. 1, winning the first half battle with a 3-point buzzer beater. But a slew of second-half fouls left the Longhorns with a 14-point deficit.

“Our team competed really, really hard,” head coach Karen Aston said of the road matchup. “Obviously, we give a lot of credit to Baylor … We need to go back and look at a different game plan.”

Texas has found its most successful plan to open games: surrounding the jump circle with sophomore guards Celina Rodrigo and Brady Sanders, senior guard Chassidy Fussell, junior forward Nneka Enemkpali and freshman center Kelsey Lang. The starting lineup boasts a 5-0 record on the season. 

Although Aston said the team “couldn’t find any sort of rhythm offensively” in the Feb. 1 matchup, Texas — and this starting lineup, specifically — has since honed its offensive firepower against weaker opponents.

But offense isn’t the only challenge. Another of Aston’s concerns after Texas’ showing against Baylor was that the Longhorns need to “be a little more disciplined defensively.” After a brutal 37 personal fouls gave the Bears a corresponding 37 uncontested points, Texas has sliced its foul trouble in half. In no contest since has Texas topped 17 violations.

As Fussell lights it up from behind the arc — she went 3-for-7 on 3-pointers Wednesday night — Enemkpali and Davenport round off a complex threat of in-paint dominance and sharp jump shots. The Longhorns left the Frank Erwin Center successful last week with both a 37-point win over Texas Tech and a clutch victory over Iowa State.

This discipline translates to finishing games strong. Against Iowa State last week, Texas faced a similar situation to its Baylor game; down by three at the half, Texas knew the game was anyone’s for the taking, but Texas pulled through with a 7-point victory.

“We knew our mistakes that we made in the first half, especially on the defensive end with communication,” Sanders said. “We fixed our mistakes in the second half, and I think everyone definitely stepped up.”

Stepping up in the second half is what has set Texas’ wins apart from its losses this season. Texas will need to play an entire 40 minutes to beat Baylor on Sunday.