Bench players look to make big impact against TCU

Drew King

Everything was offbeat for the Longhorns.

Late in the fourth quarter against the Horned Frogs on Jan. 10, TCU junior forward Amy Okonkwo set a screen on Texas senior guard Brooke McCarty’s right hip. McCarty tried scooting around it but couldn’t reach the other side in time.

Horned Frog sophomore guard Jayde Woods darted into the lane. Junior forward Jordan Hosey failed to switch off, leaving senior guard Ariel Atkins as the only Longhorn who could cut Woods off.

Just as Atkins reached the paint, Woods found fellow TCU sophomore guard Kianna Ray wide open in the right corner. Ray dropped in a three, giving the Horned Frogs a two-point lead with 30.3 seconds left in the game. TCU went on to win, 79-77. It was Texas’ first conference loss of the season.

The Longhorns have been just as arrhythmic in the six games since then. During that stretch, they’ve dropped another two games and have averaged 73 points per game, down from their season average of 82.

“This team has been a little interesting for me to try and figure out,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “When you have injuries or the situations that we’ve had, with players kind of coming in and out, your chemistry changes constantly. So I think it’s been a learning process for them to get used to that. And it’s still ongoing, so it’s going to continue that way.”

Aston still hasn’t nailed down how to rotate her players. She’s used the same starting lineup for almost every game but can’t seem to settle on how many minutes to give her bench players.

Sophomore forward Joyner Holmes’ return from suspension complicated matters. Players who consistently earned playing time early in the season saw their minutes shrink.

“(This season) started off good, but life kind of gets in the way,” sophomore wing Jada Underwood said. “As a team, I think we’re still good. But personally, things could always be better.”

Underwood’s averaging 4.0 points and 10.1 minutes per game this season. She played three minutes in the TCU game and another three on Wednesday at Kansas. She failed to score in either game.

Aston isn’t done tinkering yet, either. Junior forward Khaléann Caron-Goudreau recently returned from a stress fracture that sidelined her for 13 games.

Caron-Goudreau was expected to add frontcourt depth off the bench before the injury. She returned to action on Jan. 20 and has played in three games since. Now healthy, Aston wants to give her a chance to earn her role back.

“We’re cautious with throwing her into too much because we don’t want to re-injure the foot,” Aston said. “She’s one of those players that could provide us a spark because she’s got a lot of energy, and she pays attention to game-plans. It was amazing to me that she could come back after not having played anymore and be so in-tune with what it is we’re looking for. So you know she’s paying attention, and that’s maturity.”

The Longhorns’ bench will need to find its balance soon with just eight regular season games left. The team gets its first opportunity to do so against the Horned Frogs on Saturday.

Tip-off for Texas’ rematch for TCU at the Frank Erwin Center is slated for 12 p.m.