Higgs' career game lifts No. 8 Texas past Oklahoma 88-78
By MURRAY EVANS
Dec. 29, 2017
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Most everyone inside Texas women's basketball program knew the Longhorns had lost seven straight games at Oklahoma, so coach Karen Aston chose not to address that elephant in the room as the Longhorns prepared to visit Norman.
That strategy worked.
Lashann Higgs scored a career-high 25 points and No. 8 Texas won at Oklahoma for the first time since the 2009-10 season, beating the Sooners 88-78 on Thursday night in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams.
Ariel Atkins added 15 points and nine rebounds and Brooke McCarty had 12 points for Texas (10-1, 1-0 Big 12). The Longhorns never trailed and led by as many as 20 points, slowing an Oklahoma offense that had averaged 85.6 points in five previous home games.
The Longhorns also survived a late rally by Oklahoma (5-7, 0-1) that pulled the Sooners within eight points in the final minute. Aston said thoughts of ending the streak probably seeped into her players' heads.
"I mean, it's not a secret that we haven't won here in a long time," Aston said. "I tried to keep it a secret so we wouldn't talk about it or think about it, but I have a feeling maybe late in the game we got a little antsy and tried not to lose instead of continuing to try to win. I'm pleased that we got a win in Norman and we haven't done that in a long time."
Oklahoma (5-7, 0-1) had won its last 12 Big 12 openers and is now 19-3 in such games under coach Sherri Coale. The Sooners' last loss in a league opener was on Jan. 5, 2005, at Texas Tech.
Shaina Pellington scored 16 points - all in the second half - and Ana Llanusa and Maddie Manning each added 14 to lead the Sooners, who are 1-3 this season against ranked foes, with a win over South Florida but losses to Oregon, Connecticut and Texas.
"Texas has a really good basketball team and they played really hard tonight," Coale said. "We were affected by their speed and their athleticism, which surprised me a little. . Their speed and the way they attack in transition just really took us out of any sort of rhythm or tempo. I don't know that we ever really found it."
Texas raced to an 8-0 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes, taking advantage of four early Oklahoma turnovers. The Sooners proved unable to close the gap, struggling to score both inside against the Longhorns' large frontline and outside, where Oklahoma went 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
Texas led 26-13 after the first quarter and 41-24 at halftime. By that point, Oklahoma already had committed 11 turnovers - more than twice as many as Texas.
Oklahoma pulled within 12 twice early in the third quarter and was within 62-49 after Vionise Pierre-Louis hit two free throws with 9:25 left, but Atkins converted a three-point play, then hit a 3-pointer to rebuild Texas' lead to 19 points.
Llanusa's basket with 37 seconds left got Oklahoma within 84-76, but two late baskets by Jada Underwood - her only points of the game - gave Texas some late cushion.
"I thought we really got off to a great start," Aston said. "I was very pleased with our execution of the game plan. Our focus was really good and I just thought we were terrific in the beginning. You know we lost our flow a little bit and I'll look back at that and see if it was substitution patterns or just them changing their philosophy of their game plan and us not adjusting very well. That will be on me if we didn't."
Texas: The Longhorns ended their mystifying losing streak at the Lloyd Noble Center, posting a road win against a quality foe - one receiving votes in this week's Associated Press poll - that could loom large in the Big 12 standings as the season develops.
Oklahoma: The Sooners missed an opportunity for another quality win that would help them establish a case for a potential 19th straight NCAA Tournament berth. Oklahoma has played the third-toughest schedule in the nation according to RealTimeRPI.com, but eventually the Sooners likely will need to beat some more ranked foes if they want to reach the postseason.
WINNING IN NORMAN:
Aston might not have mentioned the Longhorns' long losing streak in Norman, but Higgs said the players certainly were aware of it.
"Oklahoma is a very good team," Higgs said. "We just had to match their intensity and understand that they weren't going to stop playing. We just had to continue to follow the game plan."
With the mission accomplished, Atkins - a senior who won in Norman for the first time - said there was reason for celebration.
"It's an absolute joy," Atkins said. "First game conference in Norman, that's not easy to do. I feel like people stepped up tonight and did what they needed to do. It was an absolute team effort. People stood up and did small things that needed to be done. It's an absolute joy."
Texas: Will host unbeaten, No. 9 West Virginia on Sunday and No. 24 Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
Oklahoma: Will visit Iowa State on Sunday before hosting TCU next Thursday.