A Season of Change and New Faces in Austin
Texas junior point guard Sug Sutton feels the disappointments of her first two season all too well. “I just remember losing in the Sweet 16, for the second year in a row. For us juniors — myself, Joyner (Holmes) and Jada (Underwood) — it was our second year losing in the Sweet 16 so we didn’t take it well.”
Texas will undoubtedly be pushing to unseat Baylor for the Big 12 title as well as make it past the Sweet 16. Last year was the fourth year in a row Texas made at least the round of 16 (an Elite 8 appearance in 2015–2016 being their deepest run since the 2002–2003 season), thanks to the stellar duo of Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins. Even with two of Texas’s most dependable players and on-court leaders graduating, you would be hard-pressed to find coaches around the Big XII who feel sorry for the Longhorns.
Texas was ranked second in the conference’s preseason coaches poll and had the most players (five) represented on the various Big XII preseason teams. In order to overcome the loss of last season’s players and unseat the Lady Bears, Texas will need to havea blend of experience and youth. Lucky for them, head coach Karen Aston and staff have been hitting the recruiting trail as hard as any coaches in the country.
The Longhorns bring in the ESPNW HoopGurlz #3 ranked recruiting class in the country, highlighted by the #2 overall recruit in 6'5" power forward Charli Collier. Pegged as the Preseason Co-Newcomer of the Year by Big XII coaches, Collier certainly lived up to the hype in UT’s exhibition game over the weekend, scoring 21 points on 8–9 shooting from the field with 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action. Fellow freshmen Joanne Allen-Taylor, Shae Routt, and Audrey Warren will look to fill the perimeter void left by McCarty and Atkins, who combined to average 28.5 PPG in 2017–2018. Unfortunately for the Horns, #8 ranked recruit Sedona Prince (6'7" center) suffered a broken leg while playing for Team USA over the summer and will have to redshirt this season.
When asked about the fresh faces on the roster, Aston stated, “ I anticipate all of our freshman to contribute in some form or fashion. They are as solid of a group as I’ve ever seen.” With Collier and the injured Prince, Texas currently boasts 8 out of 14 players who were High School McDonald’s All-Americans. Having a plethora of talent and depth, Aston believes it will still be a season of trial and error for the Longhorns. “This team in particular is going to be a work in progress. We have some competition in spots, especially the guard position, that we definitely did not have last year.”
Another new face joining the Horns will be graduate transfer Danni Williams from Texas A&M. As I’ve previously shared, Williams brings the Longhorns not only experience (Williams ranked #7 nationally in total minutes played in 2017–2018), but also a reliable shooter who can stretch the floor (38.6% from 3). She brings much-needed offense to a team having to replace 53% of its offensive production from last season.
Jatarie White- What jumps out regarding White’s game is her steadying presence on the floor. She averaged 10.8 PPG and 5.9 RPG last season and was crucial for the Horns defense in matching up with the opposing team’s best post player. I think White receives All Big XII Honors and increases her production in all statistical categories in her final collegiate season.
Lashann Higgs- Higgs is the returning team leader in PPG, steals, and assists from last season and will most likely be the player this team looks to in key moments. As a guard, Higgs was in the 95th percentile (53.5%) in field goal percentage last season, so it comes as no surprise that the crafty senior is most dangerous slicing through a defense and driving to the basket. I foresee Higgs being a First Team All-Big XII honoree and an All-American by season’s end.
Alecia ‘Sug’ Sutton- Often used as the sixth woman in previous years, the reins are officially in Sutton’s hands for her junior campaign. During Big XII media days, Aston declared that Sug has become the vocal leader and clear-cut favorite for the starting point guard spot. After averaging 6.8 PPG and 2.2 APG last season, I look for Sutton to have a breakout season, but one that includes a learning curve as the leader of the 2018–2019 Longhorns.
Joyner Holmes- Unfortunately for the Longhorns, Holmes will begin the season on the bench as she had ankle surgery on October 11. As a sophomore in 2017–2018, Holmes’s production was down slightly from her freshman year as she joined the team midseason due to team violations and struggled at times to find her rhythm. A preseason All-Big XII First Team selection, once Holmes becomes healthy, she will be the X-factor for Texas and one of the tougher matchups in the country due to her size, speed, and versatility.
Charli Collier- Earning the starting spot over proven players for Texas’s exhibition game speaks loudly of what Collier is capable of. She is physical in the paint and an outstanding rebounder who is also more than willing to stretch the floor and hit mid-range shots. After averaging over 30 PPG and 11 RPG as a senior in high school, I expect Collier to live up to the hype, be a go-to player for this team, and be in the running for National Freshman of the Year. She is that good!
Danni Williams- Preseason Newcomer of the Year in the Big XII is a lofty honor in itself, and given what Williams has done throughout her career, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see this talented guard be the missing piece for Aston’s squad. Her perimeter shooting fills a vacancy left by McCarty and Atkins and she is familiar with the big stage and tough competition after transferring from the daunting SEC. I believe Williams will be a consistent threat on offense and live up to her preseason recognition.
Chasity Patterson- As a McDonald’s All-American and the #4 overall recruit, Patterson was heralded as the 2017–2018 Big XII Preseason Freshman of the Year. The high-energy guard certainly didn’t have the season she was hoping for, averaging just 7.6 minutes per game, but the Horns will hope for Patterson to mold into form and be the backup point guard this season. Look for Patterson to excel off the bench and provide a much-needed spark for the second rotation for Texas.
Destiny Littleton- Another highly-touted recruit who came to Texas after becoming California’s all-time leading scorer, Littleton’s freshman campaign didn’t go exactly as planned. Yet the 5'9" guard has been “embracing the work that I have to do to get where I want to be.” A shooting threat from anywhere on the court, Littleton’s presence will be greatly improved on this roster and she will be one of Texas’s most lethal shooters.
The Longhorns start out the season as the AP #11 ranked team (tied with Tennessee) and will have a chance not to face a Power 5 opponent until November 24 at the Gulf Coast Classic. Following that tournament, the road will get tougher as Texas will battle two-time NCAA runner-up Mississippi State in the Big XII/SEC Challenge, followed by a home game against Tennessee. Having the yearly challenge of facing conference rivals Baylor and Oklahoma, this young Texas team might hit a few bumps during the regular season, but I expect them to hit their stride come postseason play. Expect them to play for another Big XII title and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, culminating in an Elite Eight appearance.