Stifling defense secures Longhorns’ first Big 12 win of season

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Scott Weaver | Daily Texan Staff

Ashley Chevalier stands at only 5-foot-7-inches tall, but the freshman guard imposed the largest defensive presence for the Texas women’s basketball team in its 62-52 win over Kansas State Monday night at the Bramlage Coliseum. 

From the moment Chevalier stepped onto the floor in the second quarter with a face mask guarding her broken nose, the tone of the game shifted in the Longhorns’ favor. Chevalier led the team with five steals and swarmed Kansas State’s guards, helping hold the Wildcats to a measly nine points in the second quarter. Texas rode Chevalier’s tenacious defensive effort to a comfortable lead in the first half after committing nine turnovers in a sloppy first quarter.

Chevalier provided the spark plug the Longhorns needed to clinch their first win in the Big 12, head coach Vic Schaefer said.

“Ashley, as a freshman, what she’s doing (and) the growth that she’s showing — playing with a mask on y’all!” Schaefer said. “Y’all try walking around at work with a mask on, she’s playing in a collegiate basketball game in the Big 12 (getting) five (steals).”

A broken nose Chevalier sustained in practice did not stop her from willingly stepping in to take hard-earned charges and diving on the floor for loose balls. Graduate transfer guard Kyra Lambert and junior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor displayed lockdown defense on the perimeter along with Chevalier.

“We forced 34 turnovers tonight in a Big 12 game,” Schaefer said. “That’s an astronomical number, 20 at half. They didn’t shoot it bad, but they gave it to us 34 times. But they didn’t give it to us, we caused them.”

Texas was able to build up a comfortable lead in the second quarter thanks to Chevalier’s defensive intensity and junior center Charli Collier’s offensive outburst. Collier took advantage of Kansas State’s sophomore center, Ayoka Lee, who sat for most of the first half due to foul trouble. The preseason All-Big 12 selection made 14 of her 27 total points in the second quarter as the 6-foot-6-inch Lee watched helplessly from the bench.

After scratching and clawing her way through the paint in the past couple of weeks as opponents swarmed the lane, Collier said her offensive firepower was attributed to team basketball. 

“It’s frustrating getting double-teamed and triple-teamed,” Collier said. “I just have to learn to trust my teammates, and I feel like I did that tonight. It relieved some of the pressure inside and made our offense harder to guard.” 

A 22-point lead with just over two minutes left in the third quarter disappeared rapidly for the Longhorns as Kansas State went on a 20-3 run to cut the deficit to five points. While the loss of momentum threatened to derail the young Texas team, Schaefer said the players’ response in the face of adversity was encouraging.

“We missed a layup to go up 24 (points),” Schaefer said. “And the next thing you know it’s a six-point game and you’re fighting for your life, and we didn’t flinch. I mean I look in Joanne’s eyes, and she’s got it. She wants the moment.” 

The Longhorns have found a new identity in press-defensive tactics and active hands in passing lanes, which has translated into a 6–1 record heading into a mini-break for the holidays. After winning the Big 12 opener, Collier said there’s something different about this team. 

“I’ve never been on a team like this that is so defense-oriented,” Collier said. “It’s crazy to see how our guards attack in the press, so me being a post (player), I have to get up in the press too… When we execute defensively, that runs our offense.”