The No. 11 Texas Longhorns will tip-off its season against Duquesne Thursday night, marking the official beginning of the season after defeating West Texas A&M 91-63 in an exhibition match last week.
The season opener marks more than just the first meeting with Duquesne in program history. It also marks the first real action the highly touted freshman class, nicknamed the “fab five,” will get to see in the burnt orange and white.
However, injuries have plagued the freshman class early on.
After losing freshman center Sedona Prince, the five-star, No. 8 overall recruit in the nation to a right leg fracture over the summer, freshman guard Shae Routt fainted at a practice early in the season and did not receive playing time against West Texas A&M. Despite the setback, Routt will be available on Thursday.
With a banged up depth chart, head coach Karen Aston’s young gunners will have to learn fast, but no one will have to learn faster than freshman post Charli Collier. Along with Prince, preseason All Big-12 forward Joyner Holmes is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, creating even bigger shoes for Collier to fill.
“I’m taking a big role with two people out right now (Prince and Holmes),” Collier said. “Now I have to step up even more.”
With Routt finally available, the Longhorns should have a full backcourt available to back up point guards Sug Sutton and Texas A&M graduate transfer Danni Williams.
Williams, a three-point sniper with a quick trigger, has had a wealth of hype surrounding her debut with the Longhorns and has earned her praise from Aston. Despite hailing from a rival school, there’s no questioning Williams’ skill set.
“Everybody in the country knows who Danni is,” Aston said. “I do think we can shoot the ball better (than last year). These guys can shoot.”
Notably, senior guard Lashann Higgs stands just 36 points away from joining the Longhorns’ 1,000 point club. But Higgs tries not to focus herself on her bearing milestone.
“You try not to think of the scoring aspect of the game,” Higgs said. “Because there’s other areas in which myself and the team has to improve on.”
One area in need of improvement is Aston’s defense, which allowed 63 points to an undersized Division-II West Texas A&M team. While it’s still only one game into this year’s campaign, Aston has no tolerance for complacency from her players.
“I definitely want our defense to be improved,” Aston said. “I’m pretty concerned about it … in a sense of if we can sustain focus and discipline.”
The Longhorns tip-off against Duquesne is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised by Longhorn Network.