The Texas womenâ€™s basketball team ended its 2015-16 campaign a week ago Monday in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament.
The Longhorns lost to the University of Connecticut, 65-86, holding the Huskies to their lowest offensive scoring night in the tournament through their first four games. Before the game, UCONN scored an average of 98.7 points a contest.
It was unfortunate that Texas drew a No. 2 seed in UCONNâ€™s region as the Huskies are aiming for their fourth consecutive national title, but the Longhorns never gave up.
â€œI think everyone could see that our team was exhausting themselves trying to compete,â€ Texas head coach Karen Aston said in the postgame conference.
Freshman guard Lashann Higgs and sophomore guard Ariel Atkins each scored 19 points, tying for the team high in points. Higgs came off the bench and utilized her 19 minutes wisely; the 19 points she scored created a new career high for her. Atkins played nearly the entire game, totaling 33 minutes of work. She hit three-of-four from 3-point range and swiped three steals.
Higgs and Atkins both earned Bridgeport All-Regional Team honors, giving Texas its first spots on an NCAA All-Regional team since 2003. They accompanied three other UCONN players on the list. Atkins averaged 18 points and 2.8 steals a game through four tournament games, leading the Longhorns in both categories. Higgs recorded double figures in scoring for three games, giving herself an average of 11.5 points a game for the tournament.
The 2015-16 season for the Longhorns ended up being one of their best seasons in recent years. Texas finished with 31 overall wins, marking a first in program history since the 1987-88 season. The Longhorns started the season undefeated, winning their first 16 games before losing to Baylor and finished with a 15-3 conference record. The team won its way to the Big 12 Championship game for the second consecutive year but came up short to Baylor. The No. 2 seed the Longhorns earned for the NCAA tournament marked their best seeding since 2004 when the team received a No. 1 seed.
â€œI think we are a phenomenal basketball team,â€ said Aston. â€œI didnâ€™t say that last year. We werenâ€™t. But I think we are a really good. And very easily could have been in the Final Four had we gone in a different region.â€
The 2016-17 Texas womenâ€™s basketball team will have some big shoes to fill. Seniors Imani Boyette, Brady Sanders, Celina Rodrigo and Empress Davenport are all graduating and leaving the forty acres. Boyette ended her career as the only Longhorn to record more than 1,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 200 career blocks. Rodrigo leaves the program as the active leader in career assists. She recorded 140 assists this past season, which was 51 more than second place. Davenport played in every Longhorn matchup this season, starting in 34 of the 36 games. Sanders, recovering from her offseason surgery, struggled to see much of the court this past season, but she entered her last year co-leading the team in career games played. Sanders played in 29 of the games this past season.
Texasâ€™ underclassmen have already been stepping up as seen through Higgs and Atkins performances during the NCAA tournament. Coming into the tournament, Atkins averaged 10 points a game. The 15 points she scored against Alabama State during the first round marked her lowest offensive showing during the tournament â€“ She scored 22 against Missouri, 16 against UCLA and 19 against UCONN. During Big 12 conference play, Higgs only recorded minutes in 16 of the 18 games, averaging 4.1 points. Higgs ended the Longhornsâ€™ NCAA tournament run with the third highest average in points on the team â€“ Atkins and sophomore guard Brooke McCarty were the two teammates ahead of her.
Texas had a good run this season, finishing with more than 30 wins, but Aston is ready for a championship, and reaching the Elite Eight this season should encourage the team to push for more next season, according to Aston.
â€œAs much as 31-5 sounds unbelievable, and I do think that we were an unbelievable team and had an unbelievable year, we still donâ€™t have a ring,â€ said Aston. â€œWe are still chasing championships. So, we should be highly motivated.â€