Ready for a challenge: Texas Women's Basketball
March 19, 2009
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Last weekend, Yvonne Anderson watched from an arena seat as her dad, Mike Anderson, and his Missouri Tigers claimed and celebrated the men's Big 12 conference postseason tournament.
Anderson brought that vision of victory back to Austin and shared it with her Texas Women's Basketball teammates. Now, she's trying to turn it into a feeling, as the sixth-seeded Longhorns prepare to face Mississippi State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
"I know I want to win. I got a little hungry from watching my Dad," Anderson said. "I want that. We all do, and we're all excited."
The postseason represents a new season for the Longhorns, and they all embrace the chance for a fresh start. But with that comes the do-or-die demands of the NCAA Tournament, something that will be a completely new experience for UT's three freshmen - Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and Ashley Gayle.
However, that young trio has often been the Longhorns' most fearless under pressure. Since moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 1, Fontenette has averaged 8.2 points in 27 minutes of action per game, and in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals against Iowa State, Gayle pulled down a career-high nine rebounds.
The tournament represents a different kind of test, but the Longhorns see it as something else -- opportunity.
"I'm happy to be in the tournament. I've always wanted to be in the tournament -- that was my dream," Fontenette said. "Last year we were a No. 8 seed, and this year a six. As a team, we keep getting better, and we need to keep building on that."
Said Anderson: "We're talking about all the possibilities and where we could go if we just play really hard and do the things we do. We just have to go in there with an attitude to win."
When the Longhorns have that attitude, it's witnessed on the defensive end. They pressure, force turnovers and rip rebounds. And then they can push the ball, allowing their depth and athleticism to exploit certain mismatches.
"When our defense is on, we're at our best," Fontenette said "Then, we're able to get into our offense and find our shooters. It all comes from driving and kicking - moving the ball."
That's simply team basketball, the consistent presence in UT's signature victories of the season. When the Longhorns beat defending national champion Tennessee in December, they had four players in double-figure scoring and assisted on half of their baskets.
"If we can put it all together, we could be a great team," Gayle said. "We've already had a great year, and we've grown together so much. But I don't know what my favorite memory is. Hopefully it hasn't happened yet."