Women's Basketball looking for NCAA Championship berth
In the aftermath of the last Sunday game in February for the Longhorns (a home loss to No. 24 Texas A&M), first-year UT coach Gail Goestenkors was asked about her team's chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
"We're on the bubble," she began. "And, so as not to head in the wrong direction, we need to show poise and purpose for the full 40 minutes of each game, or else that bubble is going to burst pretty quickly. I want to fight for my team, but I want to see more fight in my team."
It's been a bit of a rollar-coaster Big 12 season for Goestenkors' Longhorns. Yet, moving into March, the Longhorns are showing positive momentum heading into the final week of regular season play and into the Big 12 Championship.
Texas stood 18-11 overall after important wins over Kansas (57-53) and a huge upset victory at No. 10 Oklahoma (65-50) as UT held the high-scoring Sooners to 25 points below their season scoring average.
Texas has defeated some of the nation's best teams -- recent notables in this group include upsetting No. 13 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Baylor as well as 10th-ranked OU. Texas ripped Baylor (61-51) in mid-February, giving the eighth-ranked Lady Bears only their third loss of the season.
After the victory over the Lady Bears in the Erwin Center, Goestenkors praised the team for their poise.
"We played a much smarter basketball game," Coach G said about the 10-point triumph against Baylor.
After the win at OU Goestenkors said, "We have the utmost respect for Oklahoma and we knew this road win would mean a lot for our NCAA tournament bid hopes. Our team defense was the best I have seen all year long."
Remarking about her team holding a 43-33 edge in rebounding against OU -- one of the nation's top rebounding squads -- Goestenkors said, "It says a lot for our kids. I thought coming in that we had our backs against the wall for an NCAA bid, and we played like it today."
Yet even in the excitement of the moment, Goestenkors reminded her players, "You're never as good as your last game."
For Goestenkors, who made Duke a perennial title contender, she continues to look at opportunities for her team to improve. The Big 12 Women's Championship, which begins March 11 in Kansas City, affords the Longhorns that kind of opportunity.
"When you have a young team as we do," Coach G began, "you always want to go to the NCAA Tournament. We're dying to go to the tournament. You almost have to get there to know what you are missing.
"That experience is so important for a young team."
It's important for the Texas faithful who have not seen their women's basketball team in the NCAAs since 2005 -- heretofore unthinkable on the Forty Acres. Goestenkors has been to 13 straight NCAA tourneys, including a pair of Final Four trips.
Her first Texas team has had its moments, knocking off then-No. 12 DePaul in January and then the Baylor win.
Her first Texas team has seen the development of sophomore guard Brittainey Raven, who is emerging as Texas' go-to player with her team-high 15.4 points per game average.
Junior post Ashley Lindsey and freshman Kathleen Nash have played well, with Lindsey receiving praise as the Big 12's most improved player. The 6-4 Lindsey is ninth nationally in blocked shots, averaging three blocks per game, while scoring 12 points per game and providing excellent post defense.
Sophomore point guard Carla Cortijo runs the team effectively from the point guard position, while senior guard Erneisha Bailey, a Big 12 All-Defensive Team pick a year ago, provides great defense and has stepped up offensively.
"Carla is a terrific leader," Coach G said. "I trust her to make great decisions. And E-Bay (Bailey) is a tough, physical player who is one of our best defenders."
For Coach G, who claimed her 400th career victory against Alabama-Birmingham last November, this season has been a learning experience.
"I've done more teaching than I have done since I started at Duke," she said, noting that early in the Big 12 season she stopped the film session videotape after every possession and had her players write down what play was called.
A month later came the upset of Baylor. Then the upset of Oklahoma two weeks later which edges Texas closer to an NCAA bid.
"We don't want to leave anything to chance though when it comes to the NCAA tournament," Coach G said of the push for the NCAA Championship berth. "I feel as if we are in the hunt due to our big wins throughout the season. Still, we need to finish strong in the regular season and have a good Big 12 Tournament showing because we are fighting, mightily fighting, for an NCAA spot."