After fighting through a two-month battle against tough conference opponents, the Texas women’s basketball team is now preparing for its first act of the postseason: the Big 12 Tournament.
“It’s kind of nice to get through the grind of the Big 12 season,” head coach Karen Aston said. “As you get toward the end of it, the players get really fatigued. It’s (the preparation) almost monotonous. It’s a long stretch where they have to stay focused.”
The Longhorns will travel to Kansas City for their first-round game against West Virginia on Friday. Unlike previous seasons when Texas was one of the top-two seeds, the No. 3 seeded Longhorns will have to play more basketball than usual with No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed TCU both getting the first round bye.
But Aston said playing in the first round, rather than waiting to play an unknown first round winner the next day, will aid in the team’s readiness.
“We know who we’re playing,” Aston said. “We know we’re playing West Virginia. We know what they do. We know what we’re going to get when we play them, so the clear-cut preparation makes it a little bit simpler and not so vague.”
West Virginia is one of many teams currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble, so wins in the Big 12 Tournament are crucial for the Mountaineers. Meanwhile, Texas is projected to make the Big Dance, but winning a conference championship is still a goal.
“I would say more than anything we need to just focus on right now,” sophomore center Charli Collier said. “This is the biggest thing for us — winning a Big 12 championship — so we just need to go in with the mindset that everything else will just take care of itself if we take care of these games coming up next for us in this tournament.”
While the Longhorns have struggled this season, they’ll head into the postseason with signature upset wins over then-No.17 Tennessee, then-No. 1 Stanford and, most recently, then-No.25 TCU.
Texas has displayed its potential numerous times throughout the season, but confidence on the team isn’t always high. With high stakes games approaching in the coming days and weeks, it will be up to the Longhorns to control their own destiny.
“We can shock a lot of teams and we can beat a lot of teams,” Collier said. “It’s up to us more than anything. The coaches can’t do it. Nobody else can, the fans — it’s us. We’re the ones playing. We’re the ones with the ball in our hands, so we just have to go out there and play like we know how to play.”
Aston said it won’t take much to keep her team focused on the task at hand. After Sunday’s emotional senior day game and with NCAA Tournament bid implications on the line, the Longhorns will have much to play for heading into the long weekend.
“I think that what you find a lot of times when you go to the conference tournament is either you see a team that somewhat feels fatigued and tired of conference season … or you see a team that is actually enjoying their time together (and) want to play as long as they can together, and still understands that it’s a championship,” Aston said. “It’s a chance to cut a net down, and I think that our team has that sense.”