AUSTIN, Texas — The shorthanded Texas women's basketball team overcame a lack of depth to earn a season-opening 90-51 victory over SMU in Austin Wednesday afternoon.
Head coach Vic Schaefer is now 1-0 in his tenure on the Forty Acres, and the victory marked Texas' largest season-opening win since 1987.
"I'm really proud of our kids," Schaefer said after the game, "how hard they played — obviously, defensively, we did what we had to do. That has to be us every night. We have to play that hard."
With just nine active players, much of the load was placed on the only returning starters from last year's team: forward Charli Collier, who had a game-high 25 points, and guard Celeste Taylor, who added 24. Taylor said after the game that her playing style and her new coach's philosophy seem made for each other.
"His style, his system, wins," Taylor said of Schaefer's up-tempo style. "If you want to be a part of a winning team, you're going to buy in. It's very different but I think it fits me. I love being in the lane, playing defense, diving for loose balls, running the floor. It was pretty fun out there, I enjoyed it."
Picking up two fouls early in the first quarter was not the way Collier had planned her first game of the season to go, but she found a way to rebound in the second half. Collier piled up her 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field; Taylor backed up her scoring with a career-high eight steals.
The veteran leadership of those two guided Texas through the contest, especially with several freshmen on the floor.
Five of the nine available Longhorns were freshmen, and at times they looked inexperienced, but the talent level was evident. One freshman who came off the bench and made multiple contributions was 6-foor-2-inch forward DeYona Gaston, who took charge in the post with Collier on the bench for all but four minutes of the first half. With 10 points and nine rebounds, Gaston impressed her coach in her college debut.
"I think Deyona Gaston has a chance to be really good for us," said Schaefer on Tuesday. "She's skilled, [has a] big body [and] guard skills, can stretch you, and do some really special things."
Collier was similarly impressed.
"I thought she really handled herself well," said Collier of Gaston's play. "She definitely stepped up."
While SMU hung in through much of the first half, taking advantage of UT's turnovers and mental mistakes, the second half was all Texas. In a play that perhaps defined Texas' team chemistry and aggressive attack, guard Joanne Allen-Taylor got tangled up diving for a loose ball, and flipped it to Taylor, who then hurdled an SMU defender, drove to the basket, before firing a pass over her head to Collier, who laid the ball in the basket off the glass.
Schaefer's emphasis on defense was evident: the Longhorns totaled 15 steals and eight blocks, while forcing 35 turnovers. As a result, Texas was able to turn solid defense into good offense quickly, scoring 40 points off turnovers. Schaefer said he believes his team took away some valuable lessons that can be used as Texas moves forward.
"I thought we were really good in the press for it being this early in the year," Schaefer said. "Coming out of the locker room, we put up a 31-point third quarter. Again, that's what you want to do: you want to punch first."
"We almost put up 100, and that's a good statement," added Collier. "That's what we want to do, make statement."
Texas moves on to face North Texas at the Erwin Center at 2 p.m. (Central time) Sunday afternoon in a game that will be carried on Longhorn Network.