Longhorns open season with marquee matchup

Sydney Rubin

The Longhorns opened last season with a 16-game winning streak, but there’s no easing in this time around.

Two of the nation’s elite programs — both coming off Elite Eight appearances — meet on Monday as No. 8 Texas travels to Palo Alto, California, for a top-15 matchup against No. 11 Stanford.

The Longhorns face a loaded non-conference slate with five top-15 opponents on the schedule before conference play begins on Dec. 29.

The fresh-faced Longhorns have five returning upperclassmen on the roster from last year’s 31-win team that reached the Elite Eight. Despite acquiring a talented group of newcomers, head coach Karen Aston said she expects some growing pains.

“I actually worry about our experience a little bit,” Aston said. “Even though we are bringing back three or four players that really understand the ropes of Division I basketball, you also throw in several newcomers that have not played a game yet, other than an exhibition game.”

Texas took care of business against Stanford the past two seasons and looks to make it three in a row on Monday. Stanford banks on its leading scorer, Erica McCall, to shoulder the load on both ends of the court. The senior forward averaged 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds during her junior season while racking up a slew of conference accolades and helping the Cardinal make a deep postseason run. Stanford upset No. 2 Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen last season before falling to Washington in the Elite Eight.

Texas will turn to its veterans, including Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins, to carry the offensive load and bring experience and leadership to the court. The junior guards each averaged more than 11 points last season for the Longhorns and played big roles during the team’s postseason run.

Atkins said the team has high expectations for this season and she’s excited to accept a challenge right off the bat.

“I think it’s very interesting that we have Stanford at Stanford for our very first game this season,” Atkins said. “We expect a lot of ourselves throughout the season and think that’s a statement in itself in the beginning … We’re testing ourselves and challenging ourselves from the beginning. They’re a very good basketball team and very smart.”

Texas looks to start its campaign with a signature win on the road. The team tips off its season against Stanford at 7 p.m.