Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center started out as one big party for Texas fans. Balloons of the burnt orange and white variety dotted the crowd of 6,456, communal singing was ringing from the stands throughout the evening and jumping dogs starred during the halftime show of Texas’ marquee matchup against No. 2 Baylor.
But the Bears and their fans from up the road in Waco came to ruin the Longhorns’ fun en route to a 64-44 victory. Their strategy? Completely shutting out Texas’ stars. The Longhorns kept up with Baylor in the first half, but as the Bears gained momentum in the third quarter, Texas ran out of party tricks and was quickly exposed as the inferior team.
“Baylor punched us in the third quarter, and we didn’t respond very well at all,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I thought we got really passive and didn’t take the punch very well.”
Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was the disappearance of sophomore center Charli Collier who, for the past few weeks, has been absolutely cruising. Out of the gate in the first quarter, Collier riled up the crowd with a monster block and a 3-pointer, but those three points would be her last. For the rest of the game, she was nowhere to be found.
“We took a lot of 1-on-1 shots in the beginning, which really hurt us,” Collier said. “We weren’t a team tonight, and it showed.”
Collier’s dominant post partner senior forward Joyner Holmes also struggled throughout the night, failing to knock down shots. Besides a late jumper when the Longhorns had no chance of coming back, Holmes scored a mere two points through almost four quarters.
Texas’ other two seniors, point guards Sug Sutton and Lashann Higgs, were the team’s leading scorers with nine and 10 points, respectively. Higgs was the only Longhorn to score in double digits, but even a few of her shots soared over the basket or hit the rim.
“I don’t know that I just say, ‘OK, you gotta stop Joyner and you gotta stop Charli,’” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “It wasn’t like, ‘If you stop this kid, we’re gonna win the ball game.’”
So Baylor stopped everyone. Texas shot 7-of-19 from the free throw line and 5-of-18 from three.
While Aston said she would have been overjoyed that her team only committed seven turnovers, this statistic was overshadowed by an abysmal one: a measly three assists.
“Even if you take a player away ... (who’s) been scoring points, then that means that there’s more opportunities there to move the ball and maybe penetrate more,” Aston said. “We just didn’t do that at all.”
Mulkey said she was happy to win on the road and didn’t care whether or not Texas underperformed or was considered a worthy opponent.
“What coach would tell you it gets old winning?” Mulkey said. “Everybody we play is a rival, everybody we prepare for. We understand what we’re going to face.”
Despite the eventual blowout, the Longhorn faithful held on until the end — even as Baylor’s fans cheered and flashed “horns down.”
The Bears may have crashed Texas’ party, but Aston said she welcomes the level of competition they bring to the league.
“I like playing them,” Aston said. “They’re good. They’re always going to be good. They’re always going to test your toughness and your discipline, and you know that when you play them. ... If you’re going to compete with someone like them, then you have a good chance to do something in the tournament.”