On Monday night, a pair of top-five teams met in Storrs, CT as the Texas Longhorns went on the road to face UConn. UConn prevailed 83-76 in a game that was both closer and not closer than the final score indicates. Texas hung in strong during the first half, then it started to look like a blowout in the second half before Texas made a late run to close the gap.
So, what have we learned about Texas after this one?
Rori Harmon is really, really important
Texas point guard Rori Harmon has missed the team's first two games with a toe injury, and you could really see how the Longhorns missed their star sophomore on Monday night.
Harmon runs an offense like a seasoned veteran. She just feels so in control when the ball's in her hands—last year as a freshman, Harmon ranked 50th in Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio despite, well...being a freshman.
Not even taking into account what she would have brought defensively, I think it's safe to say that the difference in this game was that Rori Harmon wasn't there to bring the ball up the floor. UConn was able to pressure Texas ballhandlers all night and it shows in the stats, as the team turned it over 18 times, continuing a bad trend, as they had 25 turnovers against Louisiana in the opener.
Contrast that with Texas last year, when the team averaged 14.3 turnovers per game. Without Harmon, the Texas offense just doesn't run as smoothly as it otherwise would. It's not even about any scoring that Harmon might have brought—the difference in this game was just that Texas didn't have the glue that held everything together.
The good news for the Horns? They don't play again until Saturday. The bad news? I kind of doubt you bring Harmon back for a three-game set in the Bahamas. I'd guess that Nov. 27 against Princeton is a more likely spot for her to make her season debut.
Sonya Morris will provide some needed shooting
The Longhorns brought in a ton of transfers this offseason, and a lot of the attention went toward Oregon State's Taylor Jones, ranked 11th in ESPN's transfer rankings. But Sonya Morris, who came over from DePaul, was 19th in those same rankings, and she was basically the only reason the Longhorns were in Monday's game.
Morris played 33 minutes, scoring 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting. She was 5-for-10 from deep. She did have four turnovers to just one assist though, but when Harmon returns, Morris won't need to be on ball in her hands as much.
The former Blue Demon has a lot of experience against UConn, and she was almost the thing that won the game for Texas:
Morris had 13 in the first half, leading all scorers. She shot the ball well, and maybe more importantly for a team that needs perimeter scoring, she shot it with confidence. Her long-range shooting in the first half put Texas in a good position.
This team has a lot of fight in it
Azzi Fudd went off for UConn in the second half. 22 of her 32 points came then, and she had 17 in the fourth.
With Fudd going nuclear, you might think Texas would have folded from its inability to generate that same level of offense. And you were almost right. The Huskies led 63-51 after three quarters, and it looked like the knockout punch had been delivered.
But Texas fought back, winning the fourth quarter 25-20, enough to close the gap some (and cover the spread). The Horns were on their way to being blown out after the third. So, what happened?
The team just kept fighting. Vic Schaefer's defensive system is made to play aggressively and get stops, and Texas ended up with a 7-1 advantage in the fourth quarter in points off turnovers. The bench also came on strong in the fourth, with a 9-0 advantage over UConn.
At the 6:43 mark of the fourth, Texas trailed by 16. The team made a little mini-run with some good play from rookie Ndjakale Mwenentanda, but UConn pushed it back to 17 with 4:45 to go. That's when Texas made its move. Another Mwenentanda bucket, then a Mwenentanda three, then a Shay Holle three, and suddenly the lead was down to nine with 2:22 to go.
The team kept fighting, and Mwenentanda really showed a lot there. She was 5-for-7 overall in the game, scoring 13 points, the second-best mark on the team. I'll be really interested to see what she does this year, but Monday night stamped her place in this rotation. She was aggressive offensively when the Longhorns looked dead, and while she didn't manage to turn the whole game around, she was basically responsible for making the final score look a lot more competitive than it looked like it would be after UConn turned on the jets in the second half.
Here's just a few more brief thoughts on this one:
- Shay Holle wasn't as involved offensively as she was in the Louisiana game. Texas needs to get her going.
- DeYona Gaston looked like she's be a factor early, but she ended up only playing 12 minutes.
- Taylor Jones had 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The Oregon State transfer shores up some post needs for the Horns, and while this was a game where the perimeter play seemed to take center stage—a mixture of Fudd's dominance for UConn and the Rori Harmon conversation dominating how I think of this game for the Horns—Jones is showing her importance. She hasn't missed a shot at the rim yet this season and she's in the 75th percentile for field goal percentage on non-rim paint shots per CBB Analytics