Houston Chronicle

Horns pull away, reach semis

- By Nick Moyle STAFF WRITER nmoyle@express-news.net twitter.com/nrmoyle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Texas beat up on poor Kansas State like it was a junior varsity team twice during the regular season. So Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer was about ready to erupt when his team fell behind by eight points midway through the second quarter of Friday’s Big 12 women’s tournament quarterfin­als at Municipal Auditorium.

When Schaefer called a 30-second timeout, he didn’t even have the whiteboard in hand. Diagrammin­g plays wasn’t going to fix this. Schaefer was huddling to breathe some fire.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. I’m not sure I talked anything about X’s and O’s in that timeout,” Schaefer said. “I think that was a chance to talk about effort and focus and just a lack of execution. It was kind of one of those timeouts where you’re coaching their heart instead of their mind.”

The message stuck, though Schaefer’s face would turn strawberry a few more times Friday afternoon. That, at least, was a more familiar sight than Big 12 co-champion and No. 1 seed Texas struggling against No. 9 seed Kansas State.

Texas put that putrid start behind it and pulled away for a 60-42 win over the Wildcats (17-16) to advance to Saturday’s tournament semifinals. The Longhorns (24-8) will play No. 4 seed Oklahoma State (21-10) at noon.

“I was really proud of how we responded coming out of that,” Schaefer said. “We were down 16-7. We got it tied for halftime. Then I thought it carried over from there. That timeout wasn’t about X’s and O’s and sometimes as coaches we gotta have those.”

Texas missed 18 of its first 20 shots. That made Kansas State’s 7-for-20 opening look almost praisewort­hy. And even after that 30-second timeout sans X’s and O’s, the Longhorns didn’t really takeoff until the third quarter.

After freshman forward Amina Muhammad tied the score at 18-18 with a late finish inside, Texas realized it’d been ignoring its size advantage all game long. That changed in the third quarter.

Junior forward Taylor Jones wedged her 6-foot-4 body into the paint for two inside finishes, the second and an-1 putback in traffic. Muhammad and junior forward Khadija Faye followed with a pair of layups before junior guard Shay Holle curled around a pindown screen to drill a 3pointer.

That sequence broke open the game for Texas, which outscored Kansas State 21-4 in the third quarter.

“I feel like everybody was like, all right, we needed to stop playing around, put our heads in the game if we want to make it to the next day,” sophomore guard Rori Harmon said. “And I think once we got out of the locker room from the second quarter and was ready to play the third quarter, I think there was a change in our energy. Like you can completely see that it was different. That’s just something we need to start doing from the get, from the jump.”

While Harmon struggled with her own shot — she scored five points on 2for-15 shooting — she made up for it by causing havoc on defense (four steals) and getting the ball to the team’s bigs (seven assists).

Junior forward DeYona Gaston took her turn in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her team-high 13 points as Texas cruised to its third double-digit win over Kansas State of the year. Harmon delivered the dime of the game to her fellow All-Big 12 first team teammate in that period, angling a bounce pass through some bodies to Gaston for a fastbreak layup.

“We’ve got size,” Schaefer said. “We’re bigger than just about every team in the league, and we’ve tried to be good down there all year long. I think we’ve gotten better. I thought Amina was really good today. She gave us a good defensive line. Her and Khadija were on the floor most of that third quarter when we held them to four.”

Texas outrebound­ed Kansas State 48-30 and was plus-11 in secondchan­ce points. That effort on the glass helped mitigate the putrid shooting by Harmon, Holle (2 of 9) and graduate guard Shaylee Gonzales (1 of 11).

Strong second half aside, Texas knows it needs to be better moving forward. The Longhorns can’t afford to get off to a similar start against an Oklahoma State team it already lost to once this season.

“I really imparted that to them at halftime that we had to get out of this mode that we were in that had a lot to do with a bunch of individual­s,” Schaefer said. “We were so outside of the realm of a team concept that it just really bothered me. I thought the second half we were so much better from a team standpoint. Obviously, we’re pretty good when we play as a team.”

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