Texas takes care of business after weeklong hiatus

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Photo Credit: Bryce Ragor/Texas Athletics

The Texas women’s basketball team dominated the Drake Bulldogs from start to finish Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center, coming away with a 101-80 victory after undergoing a nine-day break from competition and two postponed games due to COVID-19 protocols.

Friday night’s contest had every ingredient for a let-down game: an extended break from basketball, key injuries and a cold streak from the offensive focal point. The Longhorns were without sophomore guard Celeste Taylor, their team leader in steals, and freshman forward DeYona Gaston, their team leader in blocked shots. Star junior center Charli Collier didn’t score her first field goal until halfway through the third quarter.

Nevertheless, Texas avoided a disastrous nonconference loss and overcame a healthy challenge from a pesky Drake team, head coach Vic Schaefer said.

“I wasn’t interested in playing a lower Division I or a three-name directional school,” Schaefer said. “(Drake head coach) Jennie (Baranczyk) and her staff — their team is really good. She does a tremendous job. I think she’s one of the great coaches in the game, and their system is hard to deal with.” 

Junior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor continued her early-season offensive hot streak with a whopping 22 points in the first half alone, propelling Texas to its most first-half points all season. Allen-Taylor has developed into an integral piece of the Longhorns' scoring attack and has displayed conscious shot selection, shooting 66.7% from the field in the first half. 

“I wouldn’t say things are clicking, I just go with the flow of the offense,” Allen-Taylor said. “They were double-teaming (Collier) so much in the paint. It really opened up so much for the guards. It was just my night tonight, but it could’ve been anyone’s night.”

While Allen-Taylor has been a proven commodity this season, the Longhorns received new contributions from junior center Lauren Ebo. Ebo, who transferred from Penn State this season, was ruled eligible Wednesday after the NCAA’s Division I Council approved a blanket waiver for all transfers. The news of her immediate eligibility lifted a weight off her shoulders, Ebo said.

“I was eating a bowl of cereal, and I saw a tweet on Twitter,” Ebo said with a laugh. “I texted Coach Schaefer and was like, ‘Is this true?’ He got back to me and said it was, and I was trying to hold back tears, but I eventually cried just a little bit.”

Ebo came off the bench in her first game as a Longhorn and notched 14 points while grabbing seven rebounds. The junior also shot an efficient 6-for-9 from the field. Ebo will be a vital frontcourt presence for Texas moving forward, as her contributions will allow Collier to receive more rest in-game and Gaston to focus on her natural forward spot, Schaefer said.

“It gives you that added depth that we need down there,” Schaefer said. “When I get DeYona (Gaston) back healthy, it allows me to play her at 4 (position), and she can focus on learning plays at the 4, not having to learn the 4 and the 5.”

While the Longhorns are entering conference play on a high note, Schaefer said the team will be without Taylor until after Christmas due to an ankle injury she suffered in practice. Tonight’s team effort, however, provides hope that Texas can keep the ship afloat with the star guard sidelined, Schaefer said.

“(We) couldn’t play Celeste (Taylor) and really didn’t need to play DeYona (Gaston),” Schaefer said. “It was good to see us function like we did. Joanne (Allen-Taylor) with 35, almost 36 (minutes), Karisma (Ortiz) played 35 and a half. … I thought Joanne played her guts out.”