Women's Basketball hopes its 'Jackson 5' hits gold in Big 12 race
Christmas came a little late for coach Jody Conradt's Longhorns, but understand their 64-61 victory against 10th-ranked Purdue on the first Sunday of January was no gift.
Conradt's crew earned it with determined play, netting UT's first triumph against a top 10 team since January 2005 when the Horns downed then-No. 4 Big 12 opponent Baylor.
"Bottom line," said Conradt in the aftermath of the triumph against Purdue in the Erwin Center, "is that the players needed it (the win) to believe in what they have been working toward. Their work ethic has improved dramatically and their hard work paid off.
"I wanted them to be rewarded. Our team really needed this after a rough stretch."
Conradt really needed this, too.
She admitted pausing for a moment when she gazed at the schedule and saw Purdue squeezed in as the Big 12 Conference season began.
"What were we thinking?" the Hall of Fame coach said with a laugh.
But Conradt knew this contest against a quality Boilermakers squad would provide a measuring stick for where her Longhorns were as they began the Big 12 Conference portion of the schedule.
It was vintage Texas -- tenacious defense, crisp offense.
Junior guard Erneisha Bailey embodied such with her stick-like-glue handling of Katie Gearlds, who was Purdue's leading scorer coming into the game. Twelve points on a 5-for-16 field-goal reading almost was to be expected as "E-Bay" was Gearlds' second skin.
National Player of the Year candidate and senior forward Tiffany Jackson's 20 points led the way and continued her strong start in her final season with the Longhorns.
"This is huge," she said of the victory against Purdue.
Added Conradt, "We responded to the challenge of playing a top team. The win should give us some tremendous motivation."
Jackson saw the big picture.
"We know how good we can be," she began. "Everyone on this team is in a good spot right now. You know that every Big 12 game is a huge battle and you have to fight and scratch."
The triumph against Purdue was timely in light of the Longhorns' Big 12 Conference opening 79-75 loss in the Erwin Center against an improved Nebraska squad.
Conradt felt that game delivered a message to her team.
"Welcome to the Big 12," she said. "This was a disappointing start for our team. We'll learn from this."
And learn they did as the Longhorns won their next two conference games: 79-77 in overtime at Missouri, and 68-49 at home against Colorado.
"This," Conradt said of the Big 12 Conference season, "is a marathon."
And Conradt, who is in her 31st season at Texas, believes she has the competitors to succeed in the marathon with Jackson leading the way.
The Duncanville alum and All-America Honorable Mention pick a year ago by the Associated Press and Kodak remains the Longhorns' leader on the floor. As Big 12 Conference action enters its second week, the 6-3 forward is averaging 20.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Those numbers placed Jackson No. 2 in the Big 12 scoring and third in rebounding as the conference season commenced.
Jackson was playing her best basketball of the season coming into conference action, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Surf N Slam Tournament in San Diego as December ended.
In the tourney, where Texas nudged Oregon State and then drubbed the host, USD, by 28 points, Jackson registered 46 points, 15 rebounds and six steals in the two games. Her game-high 20 points led the way in the title fray. She then started the New Year on a high note with her sixth double-double of the year (28 points, 11 rebounds versus Nebraska) and the big game against No. 10 Purdue.
These performances enabled Jackson to garner Big 12 Conference Player of the Week honors twice in a three week span (on Dec. 23 and Jan. 8) -- the eighth and ninth times in her Longhorns' career that she has been so recognized.
Redshirt freshman Earnesia Williams enjoyed her very own coming out party on the West Coast with a career-high 19 points in the title game. Her performance in that tourney enabled Williams to receive co-Rookie of the Week honors from the Big 12.
"Earnie is getting better and better every day," Conradt said of the Sapulpa, Okla., native whose true freshman season last year ended with a torn ACL in her right knee in her first collegiate start against Duke in December 2005.
"She's been frustrated in wanting to come back full strength, exactly how she was before her injury," Conradt continued. "We've taken it slow to get her back in the flow. Against San Diego, we saw how valuable she is. Earnie can really be solid for us."
Sadly, sophomore guard Erika Arriaran, who was averaging 10.5 points per game and leading the Horns from behind the three-point line, suffered a torn ACL in the final minute of the Purdue encounter and is lost for the season.
"Erika's loss to the team is extremely disappointing and very difficult for all of us," Conradt said. "But this team has been through injuries before. You just have to move on."