Texas heads to Stillwater in search of important conference win

Robert Trevino

It’s no secret that in this year’s Big 12, wins come at a premium.

Apart from conference leader Baylor, who is a perfect 5–0 in conference play and has won those games by an average of more than 30 points, the conference has seen an uptick in parity.

Texas head coach Karen Aston mentions it in many of her press conferences, especially since her team had to grind for their last two victories over the two teams at the bottom of the conference standings.

“Just because you have a lead or you’re down, it doesn’t mean anything in this league,” Aston said after a win over Kansas State last Sunday. The Wildcats, who sit at 1–4 in Big 12 play, made a late run to put the game in doubt. “I think we expect runs, no matter who it is, just because nobody’s going to hand a game to you in league play.”

That is the current landscape of the Big 12 that sets the stage for the matchup this Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, against an Oklahoma State team fresh off a 57-55 win over No. 25 West Virginia thanks to a game-winning shot.

The Cowgirls sit just a game behind Texas in the conference standings. They also defend their home court well, boasting an 8–2 record with their only two losses in Gallagher-Iba Arena coming against Iowa State and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State could prove a worthy matchup for the Longhorns, as the Cowgirls protect the ball and force opponents into low-percentage shots. The Cowgirls are eighth in the country in turnover rate and 23rd in opponent’s shooting percentage, with their opponents averaging 35.4% from the field.

However, the Longhorns were able to overcome those same issues against Kansas State, something Aston said comes down to taking what’s given by the opposition.

“In the first half, I thought we over-penetrated because we’re a penetrating team, and we had a lot of turnovers (due to) over-penetration and maybe trying to force the ball inside,” Aston said following the Kansas State game. “I thought we took what was available, and when we didn’t, we kind of turned the ball over too much. I thought we made some pretty good decisions and shot the ball pretty well.”

But as the end of the regular season comes into view, the mindset for Texas — who under Aston has three Sweet Sixteen appearances as well as an Elite Eight run in the past seven years — is shifting. The focus for the Longhorns seems to be not only receiving an NCAA Tournament bid, but making a run for the title.

“We’re kind of in a mindset of a six-game winning streak,” freshman guard Celeste Taylor said ahead of Wednesday’s game against Kansas. “We’re kind of taking it game by game … but overall we’re trying to get our mind ready for that Tournament-style six-game winning streak.”

The Longhorns will bring a three-game win streak into Stillwater, and with must-win games ahead against a more competitive Big 12, Saturday’s showdown will prove to be a referendum on the state of Aston’s team.