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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Journey to Sweet 16 quite the experience for Texas

If a team was rated merely on how they handle adversity, Texas would be the favorite heading into today's regional semifinal against UConn.

The Longhorns have endured more twists and turns this season than most teams encounter in a decade.

The season began with an impressive string of 13 wins in a row including one over the Stanford team responsible for UConn's lone loss of the season. Then, after the loss of leading scorer Nneka Enemkpali, the Longhorns lost eight of 10 games and were being written off. However, the resilient Texas squad rediscovered its swagger just in time and now face UConn in the Sweet 16.

"It has been interesting," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "I feel like the team has been reinvented a couple of times, that is the best way I know to describe the season. We started off with a team that didn't have all of its parts because Imani (McGee-Stafford) and Nekia (Jones) were out earlier in the season We felt like we were getting a couple of our parts back and then a couple others get injured along the way Ariel (Atkins)  and Bri (Tayor) and of course the major loss was Nneka Enemkpali who was having such a phenomenal season. That was such a blow to us from a personal standpoint that it took a little bit of time. The reinvention was really everybody accepting some different roles, accepting a little more responsibility for leadership which was a challenge because Nneka was the leader of our basketball team. I thought we started to reinvent ourselves in a positive way and we are playing good basketball right now."

Looking at the numbers when Enemkpali was on the court and when she was sidelined, the only player who has made a dramatic jump in terms of minutes played and increased production is junior Imani McGee-Stafford.

"I don't think it is pressure, I think my injury took me out of a lot of things," McGee-Stafford said. "When Nneka got hurt, I was probably playing 10 minutes a game. I was fully cleared (after missing time earlier in season) , Coach was just trying to bring me along (slowly) until she was able to let me go.

"We have never been 100 percent healthy. In the beginning of the season when we went on that 13-0 run, I was out. As soon as I came back, Ariel went out, Bri went out and as soon as we got everybody, Nneka went down, Nekia is out.

"On the outside it seems a lot easier 'oh so and so went down, you can replace her.' We do have a deep bench but it is not like that, we have people who have to learn a new position. We have players who learn 'I am not a post player but I have to be a post player.' I think it is much easier to say you should be able to regroup than to actually do it."

Enemkpali did a little bit of everything for a pretty young Texas team so losing a player like that hurts more than anybody outside the program could truly realize.

"Playing with Nneka, you just feel so comfortable because you know if you miss a shot, she is going to and get that rebound because that is the type of player she is," Texas sophomore Kelsey Lang said. "You just feel really comfortable when you are playing. You are not worrying about missing your shots so when she got hurt, somebody needed to fill that rebounding role and I think that each one of our guards and our post players have stepped up. We all feel more comfortable now that everybody has taken a little piece and we are playing very, very confident right now."

Nobody might be more impressed with what the Texas coaching staff has done this season more than UConn's Geno Auriemma.

"Everybody knew this year or next year that they were going to be very good," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They just recruited really well the last couple of years. When you start the season, you think you have a certain team and then one kid is gone, then another team is gone and everything that you prepared for has to change. You have to start all over again, starting all over again on Oct. 15 one thing, but starting over in the middle of the season is totally different.

"Their coaching staff has done a great job of keeping it all together, playing well at the right time. They went through a stretch when they really, really struggled but like CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey) said, they have really found themselves and they are playing as well as anybody right now."


Anonymous Joe said...

While the final score certainly doesn't reflect it, Texas was playing UConn very well at the opening of the game, they were dominating the offensive board.

Then Kiah Stokes came in and the "vibe" of the game changed completely. Somehow, with Kiah in the back, the guards played better defense, and with successive points off turnovers the game turned around.

4:46 PM 

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