Texas-Tennessee is too good to miss

Sug Sutton is stepping up her game as one of the nation's leading point guards (Photo courtesy of Texas Sports).

AUSTIN, Texas — The Longhorns are planning on remembering December when the spring comes around.

Squaring off against back-to-back Top 12 teams this week, with legendary program Tennessee coming to the Erwin Center Sunday, the Texas Women’s Basketball team is in the beginning stages of taking off toward what they’ll be in March.

Led by junior point guard Sug Sutton, Texas isn’t taking the loss to No. 6 Mississippi State too hard, instead embracing it as a learning experience to recall when the tournament comes calling.

“You’re really just learning abut the team, learning about where we are as a team and it’s all about preparing for conference,” Sutton said Friday. “December is a time we’re just trying to get better as a team, trying to find our rhythm, trying to find who we are — our identity. Moving forward we’re gonna get better as a team.”

Integrating a slew of new players during the first month of the season, including graduate transfer Danni Williams among all the contributing freshman, it’s been a challenge for the ‘Horns to hone in on an offensive rhythm thus far.

The path won’t be any smoother on Sunday following Texas’ loss last Sunday, and that’s just what the the Longhorns are hoping for in order to gain another level of connectivity on the court.

The No. 12 Volunteers sit at 7-1 along with the No. 9 Longhorns, and the contest is just one of four remaining nonconference games for Texas before Big 12 play begins Jan. 2.

“We learned we have to be a lot tougher mentally and physically, people are coming for us,” Williams said. “(This game against Tennessee is) huge because it kinda lets us know where we’re at — come Big 12 that’s how it’s gonna be, night-in and night-out. So getting these two battle-tested games in December is really good for us.”

One big component of Texas getting it together offensively is as simple as more court time together, and more ease in stressful situations.

That includes Williams, who is a highly-regarded shooter and scorer from her time at Texas A&M before the transfer this year. Though she remains confident, she admitted that the early going has presented some difficulties as she maybe tried to do too much to impress her new teammates and coach.

“It’s been difficult, you know it’s a new program, new system, so that takes time you’re not just gonna come in and fit perfectly and find your rhythm right away,” Williams said. “I don’t think it affects my shot necessarily but it does get me thinking a lot. You think about making the right pass, making the right decision all the time because you’re in a new role so your coach necessarily hasn’t seen you as much as she’s seen someone else so you’re still trying to find your role in a sense.

“They’ve seen me a lot on film, they know what I’m about, so i just need to relax and play.”
Through eight games, senior Lashann Higgs leads the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, with senior Jatarie White at 12 ppg and Sutton pouring in 10.1.

The Horns have prided themselves on defense and rebounding in the early going and so far, so good. Texas has out-rebounded every opponent this season except one — Mississippi State — which happens to be the team’s lone loss so far.

“Once we get to February we’re gonna be a really good team, have our rhythm, our chemistry, hopefully have our identity, which is defense, down pat,” Sutton said.

The freshmen have impressed their teammates thus far, Sutton added, with Audrey Warren and Charli Collier logging lots of meaningful minutes for coach Karen Aston.

“Our freshmen class, they’re doing a really good job. I think that was a surprising thing about coming into the season they’ve been a big impact and they put a lot on their shoulders. They have a lot on their shoulders right now as freshman and I think they’re handling it really well, and I’m really proud of them.”

The Longhorns and Volunteers tip off at noon Sunday at the Frank Erwin Center and will air on ESPN2.

The contest marks the 37th straight season that Tennessee and Texas have played each other.

“I think it’s very meaningful, it’s a very big game, it’s a rivalry, it’s always fun playing against Tennessee,” Sutton said. “It’s not just about ourselves, it’s about this rivalry, it’s about our fans and it’s about Texas. It’s a really good thing for us as a team.”

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