Between the grade school kids singing the national anthem before tipoff and the early 11 a.m. slot, the tone of Texas’ matchup against UT-Rio Grande Valley felt different than most other games the Longhorns compete in.
The often sparsely populated Frank Erwin Center was electric Wednesday as fourth through seventh graders enjoying the annual Forty Acres field trip screamed “Let’s go Longhorns!” at the top of their lungs, waved their hands in the air and watched Texas cruise to an 85–69 victory.
“I think it’s a great day for everyone,” head coach Karen Aston said. “It’s a win-win because (the students) get the chance to see our University and be exposed to women’s basketball.”
The Longhorns seemed to thrive off the kids’ energy in a first quarter that saw Texas go 5-for-9 from the three-point line — their best shooting exhibition all season. Freshman guard Celeste Taylor was responsible for three of the five in her explosive start, but the Longhorns spread the wealth as guards freshman Isabel Palmer and sophomore Joanne Allen-Taylor sank long-range shots of their own.
“It was pretty nice to see my teammates being able to find open shots,” Taylor said. “Being able to be open and knock down those shots, it was really good to see the ball go through. … I’m not going to hit every shot I take, so just knowing that I can do it, I think that’s what helps me out the most.”
Wednesday’s first-half performances sharply contrasted Texas’ play in the game against Arizona. While the Longhorns were able to get an offensive rhythm and shoot well like Aston said they do in practice, their play on the defensive side of the ball was much improved, too.
Sophomore center Charli Collier and senior forward Joyner Holmes bullied UT-RGV in the paint on defense, often leaving the Vaqueros with nowhere to go. Air balls and bricks hitting the rim set Texas up to collect 31 rebounds in the first half compared to UT-RGV’s 14.
But handing the ball to the other team remained an issue for the Longhorns, as all 25 of the Vaqueros’ first half points were scored off Texas turnovers.
“I still continue to be a little bit frustrated with our team — with (its) carelessness sometimes with the basketball,” Aston said.
Wednesday was a team effort, as several players helped carry Texas to victory. Six players — Allen-Taylor, Collier, senior guard Lashann Higgs, Holmes, Palmer and Taylor — all scored in double digits. Holmes led the charge with a team-high 19 points, and Palmer and Taylor recorded career bests.
Aston was puzzled following Sunday’s loss to Arizona, trying to figure out how her team had been dissected so easily. But on Wednesday, in front of all the kids, she and the Longhorns seemed to have the pieces put together.
“After Sunday we just got back into the gym and we discussed in practice what we could do better,” Higgs said. “It’s a learning experience for everybody because we have a lot of young players, … and we’re all trying to figure it out.”