Women’s basketball team ready for opener despite injury to star center

Jeremy Thomas

The preseason pick to win the women’s basketball Big 12 Conference begins its regular season Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Frank Erwin Center when No. 9 Texas opens against UTSA.

In preparation for the regular season opener, the Longhorns played an exhibition match Sunday and defeated the Oklahoma City University Stars, 102-56.

Heading into Saturday’s game, head coach Karen Aston said she is excited about the team’s speed.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do defensively and in transition with our level of speed,” Aston said. “I think with the older players, we have a lot of consistency with [them]. Now, where are the young players going to plug in and what can they contribute to our team immediately and maybe unexpected.”

The Longhorns will be without junior center Imani McGee-Stafford and freshman forward Diani Akigbogun because of injuries. Aston said she has been pleased with how McGee-Stafford, her star center, has handled the injury.

“It was interesting to watch how [McGee-Stafford] would react to her injury and whether she would be invested in the team or be a little distant,” Aston said. “She’s been extremely invested — almost taken on a little bit of a coach role all of a sudden.”

No timetable is set for either injured players’ return, but, according to Aston, there is a “great possibility” that McGee-Stafford will play this season.

“Having a couple of injuries was a setback for our mind-sets to begin with, but it’s exciting,” Aston said. “It’s exciting the potential of this team, and I’m cautious with the ‘potential’ word because that’s what it is right now. You’re asking [the sophomores] to step forward, and the freshmen not to be freshmen and contribute heavily to our team.”

While expectations are high for the team, there is no reason to jump to conclusions after the first couple of games.

“But I also think that this team, from a chemistry perspective, is going to take some time to gel, and it’s going to take some time,” Aston said. “But I’m really encouraged by where I think we will be.”

Ultimately, Aston believes the team will put a good product on the floor for fans to watch.

“Our team is going to be exciting,” Aston said. “It’s going to be one of those teams where the word is going to get out that we’re a fun team to watch.”