The year has started with a huge wins over Northeastern and Kutztown (exhibition). Some of the questions have seemed to be answered. Aubrey Griffin is back and better than ever; Lou Lopez-Senechal is improving on the defensive side while providing a scorer’s mentality; and the team seems to be finding an identity despite all of the injuries. On Monday, we will learn even more when Top Five Texas comes to town.
Texas: the Big 12 member went 29-7 and went to the Elite Eight; 14-3 at home; 10-3 away; 5-1 on neutral; Head Coach Vic Schaefer (3rd year at Texas but long time at Mississippi St); Best Win: blew out Iowa State on the road and beat Stanford (regular season); Worst Loss: Kansas at home and blown out by Texas Tech. This year: 3-0 (with exhibition wins against DePaul and Wayland Baptist)
Texas is a team that is going to be hard to figure out. In all, they lost seven girls to the portal. Lauren Ebo (6’4), Audrey Warren, and Aliyah Matharu will be the most missed. The trio combined for 27 ppg, and Ebo was the team’s leading rebounder. Latasha Lattimore was a big 6’4 body that put up decent numbers in a reserve role. Fortunately for the Longhorns, Ebo was the only full time starter of the group to leave, but the Longhorns lost starter Joanne Allen Taylor, with her 36 starts and 11.3 ppg, to graduation.
Despite losing eight girls (seven portal and one grad), Vic Schaefer reloaded with four transfers of his own- and boy did he get good ones. UConn fans will be familiar with Sonya Morris, the All Big East guard from Depaul. She joins a pair of 6’4 posts in Khadija Faye (Texas Tech) and Taylor Jones (Oregon St). The best of the group is the BYU transfer Shaylee Gonzalez; Gonzales entered the portal after the window close but was granted a waiver since her coach retired. The quartet brings in a ton of experience and scoring chops: Morris 17.6 ppg, Gonzalez 18.6 ppg, and Jones 12.3 ppg and 7.3 reb. Schaefer also signed three Top 100 freshmen, all of who were All American nominees. Amina Muhammad looks to be the prize of the class; the 6’4 post was ranked 13th in the 2022 class by ESPN.
Projecting the best starting lineup is a little difficult this early in the year, but one obvious starter is Rori Harmon. The small guard was a revelation in her first season as lead the team in assist and steals, while scoring 11.4 ppg. Aside from Harmon, height will most likely be the rule as Shay Holle, Deyona Gaston, and Aaliyah Moore are all around 6’1 and have starting experience. I would not be surprised to see Morris slide into a starting spot as the year progresses, due to her shooting ability; Gonzales could also change the lineup as she is a legit scorer. While there are at least four 6’4 players to man the post, I think Taylor Jones is the obvious choice. Taylor had a monster year in a PAC 12 that featured a ton of top tier teams. Regardless of the starters, Vic Schaefer will have a deep bench, which he historically uses. We only have two exhibitions and one regular season game to go from, but Texas has rolled Morris, Moore, Gaston, and Gonzales out in all three games. Rori Harmon was in a walking boot for the opening game, but Vic Schaefer assured media is was a minor injury. Sonya Morris is also nursing a back injury, but it hasn’t kept her out of competition.
Unlike Northeastern and Kutztown, UConn will not be able to bully Texas in the post. While the height matchups are pretty similar between the two teams, especially if Ducharme is available, Vic Schaefer teams tend to ride the line between physical and dirty. I think we all remember how that line blurred at times during the 2017 Final Four. UConn can struggle against overly physical teams, see also UCF near the end of the AAC run. Texas will also not struggle with pressure like Northeastern. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Geno press in an attempt to wear down Harmon, but don’t expect the press to yield the same results. The one area where Texas struggled last year and looks to struggle again this year is behind the arc, so far this year, the Texas is 7 for 36 from deep. The Longhorns only had two players, who saw meaningful minutes, that were plus three point shooters last year; both of those players are gone this year. Kyndall Hunter, who has yet to play this year, showed flashes as a shooter in her eight minutes a game, but aside from her, they will be relying on Morris to up her 34% accuracy rate and carry the team from deep. It would not shock me to see Geno mix some zone into the game and dare Texas to beat the Huskies from deep.
Difficulty Rating: 7. All the pieces except shooting are there for a very good coach. This would be closer to an 9 later in the year, but the Texans are going to have to put it together very quickly against one of the best teams in the country. Last year, Texas struggled against teams that could matchup height-wise, which UConn does. Texas destroyed Depaul in a scrimmage, but scrimmages aren’t always treated as real games; plus, they were only able to take a 12 point lead into halftime against Louisiana without Harmon at the point. This is a single digit home win. This UConn team is a lot grittier than we have seen in recent years and should match what Texas brings.