Up 67-64 with seconds remaining in its game on Dec. 22 against then-No. 1 Stanford, the Texas women’s basketball team needed something big to pull off the upset.
Senior forward Joyner Holmes delivered.
Intercepting a pass and driving down the court for a layup, Holmes’ heroics sent the Frank Erwin Center into a frenzy and her teammates storming onto the court with pure elation.
Looking back, Texas’ emotional 69-64 victory against then-No.1 Stanford last December acts as a picture of the Longhorns’ 2019-20 season and Holmes’ collegiate career: a struggle against the odds. Just as roadblocks plagued Texas leading up to Stanford and beyond, numerous setbacks stood in Holmes’ way prior to her senior year.
Since coming to Texas in 2016, Holmes, as well as other teammates in her class, have fought adversity. During her sophomore year, a suspension from UT for the fall semester sidelined Holmes for the first half of the basketball season. Then during her junior year, it was a broken ankle that kept her on the bench. On March 8, Holmes finished up her first complete regular season since 2017 before the coronavirus canceled the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
Similarly, the odds were stacked against the Longhorns when they faced the Cardinal. Although unranked Texas was riding high on a road victory over then No. 17 Tennessee from two weeks prior, the team’s depth issues and growing pains remained its Achilles’ heel. Meanwhile, Stanford boasted 10 wins and the best freshman class in the country.
Disillusioned by early-season losses and her team’s lack of confidence on the court, Texas head coach Karen Aston often mentioned how confused she was that the Longhorns didn’t play as they practiced. The potential was there, but the setbacks seemed never-ending.
“I’m somewhat surprised and puzzled … at how we’re approaching the start of games and our lack of aggression,” Aston said after Texas’ 83-58 home loss to Arizona on Nov. 17, 2019.
On paper, the Longhorns shouldn’t have beat the Cardinal.
But Texas rallied against Stanford to win one of its biggest games of the year and reset its season. Four Longhorn players finished with double-digit point totals.
Holmes had scored nine of her 13 points by the time she was faced with yet another trial, albeit minor in hindsight. It was the beginning of the fourth quarter, and Texas had just lost its lead for the first time all game. Holmes came crashing down to the court, and it looked like one of the Longhorns’ star post players would be gone too.
Grabbing the same left knee she’d sprained in the game against Tennessee, Holmes was helped to the locker room. Initially evaluating the potentially serious situation, she shouldn’t have sealed the victory.
But Holmes battled to be back on the court just as she has for the past four seasons. And when she returned to the game against the Cardinal, the Longhorns welcomed her back with open arms.
“(The potential injury) scared me for a minute,” Holmes told the Longhorn Network after the game against Stanford. “But I was okay, and I knew I had to come back out and fight for my team. I mean, this is a game we’ve been talking about since the season started, so I just knew.”
The coronavirus may have taken away the Longhorns’ postseason aspirations, but nothing can take away their victory over Stanford — or the play at the end of the game with Holmes’ fighting signature on it.