Texas women’s basketball begins its quest for a Big 12 title and NCAA tournament berth Friday when the No. 15 Longhorns travel to Tampa to face South Florida in the season opener.
Karen Aston, who will be entering her eighth season as the Texas head coach, said she thinks the out-of-conference contest will present challenges for the Longhorns and expose the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“South Florida had kind of a similar situation to what we’re going through right now with tons of injuries,” Aston said. “I think I watched one game last year where they had five players, and they weathered the storm. (They) now return most of that team along with several really talented freshmen, so I expect this to be a very competitive, tough outing for us on their home court.”
Aston said she welcomes the difficulty of the road matchup, as it will prepare the Longhorns for Big 12 opponents.
“I think just getting some road games that are very tough is good for us,” Aston said. “I thought the last couple of years that may have been what we lacked … just a couple of tests on the road.”
Friday’s game, Aston said, will allow her to evaluate the abilities of players on the roster and see how they react in game situations.
Charli Collier is one player Aston expects to step up this season, and Friday will be her first test. Aston says Collier’s performance against USF will help her identify any areas in the sophomore forward’s game that need development.
“(Collier) is going to get a lot of playing time,” Aston said. “And I think sometimes players just need to play and make mistakes in the game and see where they can learn and see how they can improve and get comfortable with that it feels like to play 30-35 minutes a game.”
Injuries to players like senior point guard Sug Sutton and senior forward Joyner Holmes have required others on the team to step up and assume positions that may be uncomfortable.
Sophomore guard Shae Routt, senior guard Jada Underwood and 2019 Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year Celeste Taylor will all be thrust into the forward positions despite being undersized.
“We’re asking a lot of Celeste Taylor to come in as a freshman and maybe sometimes come play that forward spot also, but it’s a learning experience for them,” Aston said. “That’s what they come here to do. They come here to play, so let’s play.”
Mystery surrounds the Texas roster, which has lost players to injury, NCAA eligibility rules and on some occasions, foul trouble. But Aston said the team has been responsive to adversity, making things work and staying flexible.
“Most people would think that I’m lying awake at night and I can’t sleep because what’s going to happen, but I think that when you coach, you really want players and teams to kind of embrace the fact that it’s a competition and you want them to, for lack of a better word, ‘give you what they have’ — whatever that is,” Aston said. “And this team is really, really trying to do that.”
The Longhorns will see what they’re made of Friday when Texas tips off against South Florida at 6 p.m.