By Blanche Schaefer
AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 8 University of Texas women’s basketball team improved to 5-0 on the season Wednesday when the Longhorns defeated Hampton, 79-52, behind junior guard Brianna Taylor’s 16 points and five rebounds.
Four Longhorns scored in the double digits, but it was Taylor’s energy that helped pull Texas through its mid-game struggles.
“When we have mental or defensive lapses, we know ‘Bri’ will bring the energy and make up the slack,” senior center Imani Boyette said. “She’s always running across the floor, making plays with energy, and that’s what we need — someone with constant energy and a strong defensive presence.”
The Longhorns scored first on a Boyette layup at 8:46 in the first quarter. Senior guard Celina Rodrigo turned a steal into a three-pointer to stretch the Texas lead to 5-0. Rodrigo finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Hampton got on the board with a couple free throws from sophomore forward Kaylah Lupoe after a foul by Boyette. The Longhorns rode an 18-8 run to finish the quarter on a buzzer-beater jump shot by junior center Kelsey Lang. Texas was up 23-10 at the close of the first quarter.
The Texas offense stalled early in the second quarter, going scoreless for three minutes in the middle of the quarter. But Taylor reenergized the Longhorns with two layups.
“I try to do what I do best, and that is bring energy whenever I can,” Taylor said. “I am starting to get more comfortable in that role.”
After a missed three-pointer by Hampton junior guard Malia Tate-DeFreitas, freshman guard Lashann Higgs grabbed the rebound and charged down the court for a bucket to extend the Texas lead to 35-19. Texas entered halftime leading, 43-22.
“It was one of those games that had some ups and downs to it because of the substitution patterns that I had,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “We were just working on some things we haven’t actually incorporated in games very much, so I expected that to look a little bit ragged. We had some combinations that didn’t look good at times because they maybe hadn’t played together before.”
Texas started the third quarter with two turnovers at the hands of senior guard Empress Davenport. Taylor missed a layup and the Longhorns failed to secure two rebounds, leading to a layup from Lupoe, forcing Aston to call a timeout only two minutes into the quarter.
The timeout put the ’Horns back on track. Sophomore guard Brooke McCarty sunk a basket immediately following the timeout, igniting a 12-2 Texas run and helping the Longhorns score 21 points in the quarter. The defense held Hampton to only five points, and 26 of Texas’ 47 total rebounds came in the third quarter. Aston emptied her bench in the fourth quarter, giving younger players valuable court time.
“We had some moments [when] we were really good and we weren’t terrible defensively at all,” Aston said. “We did some good things and we played everybody, which is good.”
The Longhorns shot 47.7 percent from the field, while the Texas defense held Hampton to 35 percent. Higgs recorded her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Junior forward Sara Hattis also scored a career-high 8 points.
Tata-DeFreitas led the Pirates with 21 points and five total rebounds. Lupoe scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Longhorns face their first true challenge Sunday when they take on No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville at 1:30 p.m. in a game that will be shown on ESPN.
“We need to be tested and we need to know that we can play big teams,” Boyette said. “We know that we can do it, and we need to build that work ethic. I think (playing Tennessee) will be very useful since we have a lot of young players playing a lot of big minutes, so it’s going to be very telling.”