Friday, January 22, 2010
Goestenkors tries to lead comeback
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has experienced big wins and puzzling losses. Winning streaks and losing streaks.
What the Texas women's basketball program hasn't done yet under third-year coach Gail Goestenkors is threaten to win the Big 12, something many Longhorn fans expected by now.
Texas (13-5, 2-2, No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) is coming off a much-needed win over Oklahoma State (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP). But Goestenkors is 17-19 in her first 36 regular season league games, the same mark as predecessor Jody Conradt in her final 36 Big 12 contests.
Even Goestenkors says she expected a faster, more consistent turnaround when she left the powerhouse she built at Duke and signed a $1 million-a-year contract at Texas in 2007.
"It's taken longer than I wanted it to take," Goestenkors told The Associated Press. "As an outsider looking in and a coach coming from a successful program, you think you can come in and change things right away ... We could have come in and tried to sign some junior college kids and get some quick fixes but we chose not to.
"We're building for the long haul. It takes a little longer. The rewards, I think, will be that much greater."
Goestenkors built Duke into a Final Four fixture. At Texas, she inherited a proud program that had missed the NCAA tournament two years in a row.
The Longhorns made the tournament in each of her first two seasons but made quick exits. That's good enough at some places, but not at a program which stood among the giants of the game for three decades under Conradt.
Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky, who hired Goestenkors, said there's an urgency to win tempered with patience and confidence that championships will come.
"We all want wins. And we should. That's OK," Plonsky said.
"I don't view her taking this job as just moving the Gail Goestenkors who built Duke into this job and saying it's just going to happen the same way. I think she made a conscious decision to start from scratch again," Plonsky said. "At Texas, it's not about immediate results at the expense of everything else. It's about style and class. I'm convinced Gail is the right fit."
At times, Goestenkors has taken a tough-love approach with her players, even when it may have hurt the team on the court.
When Goestenkors didn't think senior guard and captain Brittainey Raven, who averages a team-high 15.2 points, wasn't working hard enough in the classroom this season, she made her start several games on the bench.
Raven signed with Texas when Conradt was the coach and said the entire program needed time to adjust from a coach of 31 years to Goestenkors.
"Coach G brought a lot more intensity than what I was used to. Even last year, we were still trying to get used to things," Raven said. "I think by next year, they'll have it all together."
There have been flashes that Texas can return to the top.
In Goestenkors' first season, a late winning streak helped the Longhorns get to the NCAA tournament despite a losing record in conference play. Last season, they started 11-0 and climbed as high as No. 4.
But just when the program seemed reborn, Texas went 8-8 in the Big 12 and lost seven of the last nine games.
Goestenkors said she underestimated the strength of the Big 12 before arriving. The league has six ranked teams this week, the most of any conference.
"I knew how good it was at the top. I didn't know how good it was from top to bottom. In the ACC (at Duke), we knew there were teams you were absolutely going to beat unless you didn't show up. There's no night off here," Goestenkors said.
Texas started 0-2 in the Big 12 this season, opening conference play with a humiliating 91-70 home loss to rival No. 9 Texas A&M. Wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State would seem to have Texas moving in the right direction before Saturday's home game against Iowa State (14-3, 2-2).
"I think that it kind of crushed us to come in and lose two right off the back," said senior guard Erika Arriaran. "I think that these games are a great momentum for us."
Recruiting will the key to cracking the Big 12.
At Duke, Goestenkors was competing for every top prospect with a 4.0 grade point average because they all targeted the private school for its academics. It was a smaller pool of athletes but one with less competition among coaches.
At Texas, the range of recruits is larger but Goestenkors has found she's bumping up against league rivals Baylor, Oklahoma and elsewhere.
"Everybody in the Big 12 is recruiting Texas," Goestenkors said. "It's like football."
Freshman forward Cokie Reed, rated the No. 5 prospect in the country last season, was Goestenkors' first big-name signing. Next year's freshman class includes Chelsea Bass and Tiffany Moore, two players rated by some analysts as among the top 15 players in the country.
"I've learned a lot about recruiting. The kids I bring in, they have to be mentally and physically tough because it's so athletic and so physical once you get into this league," Goestenkors said.