Sunday was Texas’ day. A time for Longhorns’ fans to celebrate a 73-59 victory over Tennessee that, to them, has no “yeah, but” attached to it.
Admittedly, to others, there’s some of that “yeah, but Tennessee is so young,” … “yeah, but the game was in Austin (and did we mention Tennessee is so young?)” … “yeah, but let’s see what happens in March.”
All that is true, but for Texas these are happy times. The Longhorns are indeed climbing the ladder, just as expected, in coach Gail Goestenkors’ second season in Austin.
As one friend, a former Division I player and coach, said to me after watching the contest: “Texas now looks like a team implementing a smart coach’s game plan.”
Now, that isn’t an anti-Jody Conradt sentiment, just a pro-G one. Conradt had done all that she could for Texas women’s hoops, but she had reached a point of career fatigue that she acknowledged was keeping the Horns from being as good as they could be. Give JC credit for handing over the keys to Goestenkors, a coach who has won a ton of games with all different kinds of personnel.
Also, I have to say Ashley Lindsey’s performance Sunday seemed LaToya Pringle-like … you know, that long-limbed, graceful, jumping-jack thing. Lindsey had 11 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. Brittainey Raven, of course, is the Horns’ best player, but the post game made the difference, outrebounding Tennessee by 11.
Oh, and we should give Texas props for this, too: The Longhorns’ volleyball team is in the Final Four, along with fellow Big 12 school Nebraska.
Now, as for Tennessee …
All wise owls can look at the Orange Crush and know how much trouble this team is going to cause top opponents fairly soon. In the meantime – the learning time – coach Pat Summitt’s crew will have some days like Sunday.
Near the end of the game, did you catch that look of contemplation on Summitt’s face that almost turned into a smile? It was like, “Well, I know what I’m dealing with here. It’s OK. It’s only December.”
One other thing … it’s been a while since officiating got on my nerves as much as it did for this game. I keep claiming I’m a reformed griper on this topic. Because, yes, I know it’s a tough job, and everybody complains about it in every sport_ so what’s the point in griping?
And I do understand that Tennessee, in particular, presents some “unique” challenges to officials. Summitt is a legend who both charms and intimidates officials. So Tennessee often can push its trademark physical play right to the limit (or past it) while not getting into too much trouble with the refs. Essentially, Tennessee is used to being allowed its “extra-curricular activity,” and other teams get used to having to put up with it (and sometimes get in a little in retaliation.)
But every once in a while – this game and last year’s game at Stanford are two examples – the officials really put the hammer down from the start on Tennessee and just possibly go a bit too far the other direction. The players then have no choice but to back off a bit from the way they’re trained to play.
Summitt can recognize this quickly. But with a team so loaded with inexperience, she has to explain everything in detail and hope it soaks in soon enough. It took basically a wasted half for Glory Johnson to figure out that she had to stay aggressive while still being more cautious than she normally would prefer to be. Which is very hard to do _ and a lot to ask of a freshman.
Afterward, she talked about needing to play “smarter,” which is the mature way for her to look at it. However, the truth is that sometimes the officials have bad games, too. It was irritating to see so little of Johnson – a superstar in the making in this sport _ in the first half. Some of it WAS her “fault” … and some was the officials calling a game too tight for my liking. Tennessee ended up with 26 fouls and Texas 22. It was an annoyingly “over”-officiated game for both sides.