On Track: Coco Reed and Annissa Hastings providing critical play for the Longhorns
Entering the 2005 NCAA Tournament with a 21-8 record and a No. 3 tourney seed, the Texas Longhorns can attribute a large part of their success down the stretch to two key reserve players: 5-10 redshirt junior guard Coco Reed (Houston, Texas/Jersey Village HS) and 6-2 senior forward Annissa Hastings (San Antonio, Texas/Sam Houston HS).
As Coco and "A" (nickname of Hastings) go lately, so go the Horns. In order for the Longhorns to enjoy a deep run in the NCAA Tournament - which begins Saturday with a first-round matchup against a 22-8 Oral Roberts squad (No. 14 seed) - Reed and Hastings will have to play pivotal roles for Jody Conradt's squad.
Starting the last three games for injured junior guard and starter Nina Norman (suffering from a concussion and then a fractured finger) - who has been her best friend since eighth grade - Reed has provided the Longhorns with valuable and consistent guard play. Reed has a game which differs from Norman, who is known as a smooth ball-handler with extraordinary quickness and a killer pull-up jumper. Norman also has emerged as a key leader for this year's team.
Reed also has built her basketball play around a great shooting touch and dribble penetration, and is more of a shooting guard than Norman. Reed's size (at 5-10) gives UT added size and a tough defender on the perimeter.
In these last three games (vs. Texas A&M, Oklahoma and No. 17 Kansas State), Reed has stepped in admirably. The 2005 Big 12 All-Academic Second Team member has contributed 18 points (6.0 ppg), 13 rebounds (4.3 rpg) and 12 assists (4.0 apg) while shooting eight-for-14 from the foul line. Her scoring ability has always been known, and in this post-season stretch, Reed's ability to dish the ball and get to the boards has been a big boost for the Longhorns.
"Without Nina in the game, my role has been to penetrate, push the ball and help create shots for my teammates. I have tried to come in and be as solid as possible, not to try to make the big plays but just make the plays I know I can make," Reed said.
Her scoring numbers have grown since mid-season as well. In the last eight games, Reed has collected 43 points - scoring 41 percent of her total season points (43 of 105) in this stretch.
"Coco brings to the court a high energy level when she comes in defensively," noted associate head coach Karen Aston. "She has a great understanding of what we need off the bench and has made the right adjustments in gaining a starting role [for Norman] lately.
Fortunately for fans wearing Burnt Orange, "Ms. Excitement" Hastings has regained the confidence, swagger and ability she demonstrated in the Longhorns' 2003 NCAA Final Four run.
After missing the entire 2003-04 season as a medical redshirt with a torn Achilles, the fifth-year veteran recently collected a season-high and game-high 19 points in her 25 minutes off the bench at Texas A&M (March 2). Her energy off the bench and dominating presence on the court have been key factors in the line-up.
"Annissa is probably our best defender and someone who can guard any position, one through five. It's hard to give a higher compliment to a defender than that! More than anything, she changes the tempo when she gets in the game with her quickness, energy and movement," Aston explained.
"Both Coach Conradt and I have been frustrated that my progress from my injury wasn't as fast as we both wanted, but right now, the most important thing is for me to give my team whatever it needs when I step on the court - a rebound, a blocked shot, a defensive stop, a fast-break layup. Whatever we need, I am ready to help make that happen," said Hasting.
"As soon as I come into the game, I know I need to make something happen. This year we have a different team with different situations, but we are very confident and excited. I feel like I am getting back into the groove that I was in before my injury" Hastings added.
This confidence is supported by the "home-away-from homecourt" feel that Dallas' Reunion Arena gives the Longhorns, since it is just 200 miles north of UT's home court (the Frank Erwin Center) in Austin. The Texas players have enjoyed great success here at Reunion throughout the years, whether it be winning numerous tournament championships in the old Southwest Conference or going 5-1 in Big 12 Tournament play at Reunion in 2003 and 2004 - winning the Big 12 tourney crown here in "Big D" in 2003 and finishing as runnerup last year.
Traveling up 1-35 from Austin to Dallas by bus gave the Longhorns a chance to reflect on their past successes in Reunion.
"We couldn't wait to get back into the locker room here in Dallas. We have great memories from the past Big 12 Tournaments here," added Aston. "With the great fans who support women's basketball in this area, with the families we have nearby, and with UT-Arlington, Texas Tech, Rice and Oral Roberts also playing here, we are expecting a great atmosphere on Saturday from a big crowd," Aston added.
Along with expecting big-time results and play from the Hastings and Reed.