Texas looks to close in on top seed

Jasmine C. Johnson

The Longhorns are a much improved team this season. Just ask the selection committee.

Last season, the committee placed Texas, a mediocre road team with a 4-7 away record, as a No. 5 seed in the Albany region of the NCAA tournament, leading to a Sweet 16 exit against No. 1 University of Connecticut. This year, however, an umblemished road record has the Longhorns (21-1, 10-1 Big 12) as the fifth-best team overall in the eyes of the committee, according to their rankings on Feb. 1.

The biggest change — a new road mentality, senior guard Empress Davenport said. 

“Last year I don’t think we were very focused on the road,” Davenport said. “This year we set a goal to not have highs and lows and stay consistent throughout the whole season.”

The Longhorns have done a good job of managing the highs and lows with wins at Tennessee, West Virginia and TCU — places where the team has struggled in the past. The lone low came in the 13-point home loss to then No. 6 Baylor.

But Davenport said they still have room to improve, specifically with turnovers.

“We talk about that in film,” Davenport said. “It’s a lot of the little things that we have to clean up in order to be the team we want to be and reach the goal we want to reach.” 

Texas averages 16.9 turnovers a game, which is a slight increase from last season’s 16.3 turnover average. In addition to turnovers, Davenport said the team needs work on running lanes correctly and being in the right position on plays.

Head coach Karen Aston said these errors come from a lack of discipline.

“We go in stretches of games where we do really good, and then we start randomly turning it over or randomly fouling,” Aston said. “I would say all of that comes from more distinct discipline in your game.”

The Longhorns return to the Erwin Center tonight for the first time in two weeks to face No. 20 Oklahoma State, but the schedule doesn’t get easier. Texas travels to No. 21 Oklahoma on Sunday and finishes the season at No. 4 Baylor on Feb. 29.

Davenport said they need to finish strong to set themselves up for a long tournament run. 

“We know that if we win our conference, we’ll be [a No. 1 seed] and potentially get to host at home the first two rounds and potentially get to have a closer regional than we did last year,” Davenport said.

Given the added weight of this next month, Aston said the coaching staff has divided it in four game stretches to keep the team focused.

“There’s a four game stretch that we’re in right now and maybe look at the last four,” Aston said. “Then obviously that last week which includes the Big 12 tournament.” 

But for Davenport, whose time at Texas is dwindling down, the focus is just on the next game. 

“It is legacy time, but I’m just trying to take it one game at a time,” Davenport said.