Horns riding six-game win streak
When Gail Goestenkors went to Texas in 2007, she knew she had to plug into the Longhorns history and make it come alive. She didn't want there to be an unbridgeable gap between what used to be and what is now in Austin.
"The tradition of this program is so strong, we've really tried to make sure our players understand all the hard work, effort, energy and passion that went into building it," Goestenkors said. "They have a responsibility to uphold that tradition.
"We asked the former players write letters about their memories and what it meant to be a Longhorn. And we had a book made up of those. Before every game, we have one of our players read a letter from an alum."
On Feb. 7, Texas had an alumni reunion weekend that culminated in a 30-point win over Texas Tech. And the enthusiasm that the team got from that experience has just kept on growing.
The No. 14 Longhorns beat Kansas State 62-41 on Wednesday night for their sixth victory in a row -- the longest winning streak Goestenkors has had at Texas. It moved the Horns to 19-6 overall and 8-3 in the Big 12, which puts them in a second-place tie with Oklahoma behind still-undefeated Nebraska.
Consider that were it not for a 73-71 overtime loss to Iowa State on Jan. 23, Texas' streak would be nine in a row.
"We're closer, we're getting there," Goestenkors said of whether the Horns are really playing the way she wants them to. "I think a lot of it is attributed to Ashleigh Fontenette because she's playing the point for the first time since middle school.
"In this league, it's tough to be a point guard who hasn't been playing that your entire life. I think we've grown with our offensive sets. She knows better what I want her to run. And I feel like we're sharing the ball better."
The sophomore Fontenette came up big in one of the key games of the current streak: a 85-82 double-overtime victory at Kansas on Saturday. And she did it after she'd had a couple of crucial misses.
Fontenette missed the front end of a one-and-one with 34 seconds left in regulation, then missed a shot just before the buzzer. At that point, Texas' confidence could have plunged because the momentum swung to Kansas.
And with the Jayhawks up by four points with 11 seconds left in the first overtime, it appeared Texas was indeed going to lose. But then a foul was called on Sade Morris, which sent Brittainey Raven to the line.
Officials don't have the benefit of slow-motion replays, of course, to make foul calls. It's a tough job because they can't always see everything. In this case, they didn't. The video replay was clear: Raven tried to shove Morris out of the way, then elbowed Morris in the face.
It happens in basketball. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't. Had Raven been called for a flagrant foul, Kansas almost certainly would have gotten a crucial victory.
Instead, it was Raven who went to the line, making both free throws to cut KU's lead to two. The Jayhawks still had a chance to ice a victory when LaChelda Jacobs was fouled, but she made only one free throw.
That allowed Fontenette to extend the game to a second overtime when she hit a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. Then Texas went on to win its second double-OT game this season, and Fontenette finished with 20 points.
"She wanted to take that [3-pointer], she was so mad at herself for missing that free throw earlier," Goestenkors said of Fontenette. "And I trust her with the ball. I think we've progressed as she's progressed, and really as Cokie Reed has progressed as well.
"We haven't had that inside game consistently, and Cokie understands she's a force on the block and the team has confidence in her. It's those two positions you have to have to be successful."
The Horns also pulled a victory out of the fire in similar fashion on Jan. 16 when they won at Texas Tech 95-90 in double overtime despite trailing by six points with 22 seconds left in the first overtime.
Both of those games could well end up being critical to seeding in the Big 12 tournament, as well as the NCAA tournament.
It's still a tough path ahead in the final five games of the regular season for Texas. The Horns travel to Texas A&M on Saturday; they lost to the Aggies by 19 points at home in the teams' Big 12 opener Jan. 9. That gives you an idea of how much Texas has improved in the last month and a half, which Goestenkors hopes the Horns will show in College Station.
The rest of Texas' schedule is at Oklahoma State (which lost at Texas in January and has hit a four-game losing skid), at home against Oklahoma (Texas won the first matchup by 18 points at OU on Feb. 3), at home against Missouri (which is 1-16 overall against Texas and 0-9 in Austin), and at Baylor (the Horns won the first matchup, Jan. 31 at home, to start their current streak).
Meanwhile, of Nebraska's remaining five games, four of them are against teams in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings: Colorado, Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State. The biggest test the Huskers have left in the regular season is Feb. 24 at Oklahoma.
Meaning Texas and Oklahoma are in a battle for second place, as is 7-4 Iowa State. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are both 6-5.
Remember, Texas started the Big 12 season with two losses, and the Horns would have fallen to 0-3 in league play if they hadn't scrambled up that double-OT win at Texas Tech.
"I think the Tech game kind of prepared us," Fontenette said for how well the Horns have stared down most of their high-pressure situations since. "It's just a matter of believing in ourselves and knowing we can pull through in any situation."