Longhorns look for redemption in Big 12 Tournament

Justin Martinez

With just three seconds left in the game on Feb. 19, Brooke McCarty dashed toward the three-point line.

She took two dribbles, pulled up at the top of the arc and released a contested three against the Baylor defense. The shot found the bottom of the net, followed by the sound of the buzzer shortly afterward. But the Texas bench didn’t celebrate. Instead, it was the Bears’ bench that exploded from their seats.

Though the shot counted, the scoreboard still read 93-87 in Baylor’s favor. With the win, the Bears had just secured sole possession of the Big 12 regular season title for the eighth straight season.
Laughter and celebration ensued as the Bears turned the visitors’ locker room into a water park, splashing each other with water bottles and jumping around in a huddle.

Just down the hall, McCarty and her teammates sat in the home locker room. The sounds of Baylor’s cheers leaked through the walls.

McCarty had left it all on the court. The 5-foot-4-inch guard torched the nation’s third-ranked team for a career-high 32 points and seven threes on the night. But none of that mattered. Her team lost, and she wanted another shot at the Bears.

“I think as a competitor you never want to lose,” McCarty said after the game. “But at this point we can’t drown in our sorrows. We’ll see them again.”

That rematch could be just over the horizon as the second-seeded Longhorns enter the Big 12 Championship, which kicks off in Oklahoma City, on Friday.

The first-seeded Bears have won the tournament two of the past three years, beating Texas in the championship game each time. But this year, the Longhorns hope to finish on top for the first time since 2003.

“We’re obviously trying to win,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “But everybody has a different energy level (in the tournament), and anything can happen. Nothing is a given.”

Texas’ run at the championship begins on Saturday when the Longhorns take on the winner of Iowa State and Texas Tech in the quarterfinals.

Although Texas swept both teams by an average of 27.8 points per game during the regular season, Saturday’s matchup holds higher stakes. With both the Cyclones and the Red Raiders out of contention for the NCAA Tournament, the two teams are determined to end their seasons with a statement victory to build on.

“We just have to take it one game at a time and focus on the winner of Iowa State and Texas Tech,” sophomore forward Joyner Holmes said. “Whoever that is, we just have to play them hard and stick to the game plan.”

That game plan is to lean on McCarty, who has continued to impose her will in her final few games as a Longhorn. McCarty is averaging 20.7 points per game over the past three contests — a welcomed sight for the team’s leading facilitator.

“I’m just trying to do what I need to do for my team to win,” McCarty said. “It’s a good thing to see the ball go through the basket, and I think I’m in a good spot.”

With the NCAA Tournament approaching in late March, the Longhorns hope to enter the big dance with some momentum, and a Big 12 title would be the perfect way to do just that.

“Any time you get to cut a net down and receive some hardware, it’s validation that you have a good team,” Aston said. “It’ll be fun.”