Longhorns hope for different outcome in rematch with Cardinal in Sweet 16

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Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The Longhorns have a history of success inside Rupp Arena, which sits perched on the University of Kentucky’s campus. 

In 1986, Texas capped off a perfect 34–0 season with the program’s only national championship.

Jody Conradt, the coach of the 1986 squad, and Fran Harris, Texas’ leading scorer that season, arrived at Rupp Arena this week with the current Longhorns as they prepare to take on the Stanford Cardinal in the NCAA Sweet 16, their first time back to the arena since winning it all 31 years ago. 

“That’s a special thought for sure,” current head coach Karen Aston said. “That we are going back to a place where Texas has been successful before. I personally have never played in (Rupp). It’ll be a fun experience for our team and I think I’ll enjoy it. I think we’re just going to stay in the moment and try to get ready.”

Taking everything one day at a time and staying in the moment has been Texas’ mantra all season. But the history of the program also acts as inspiration for the present. 

“That’s really special,” junior guard Brooke McCarty said. “It’s just special because Texas is about tradition and history so I think that’s pretty cool.” 

Texas has a shot to avenge its season-opening loss to Stanford on Nov. 14, a game in which Aston’s young team wasn’t quite prepared for the heavy-duty challenge the Cardinal presented on its home court in Palo Alto, Calif. 

Freshman forward Joyner Holmes made a nervous collegiate debut in the 71-59 loss to Stanford, coming off the bench for just three points, three rebounds and four fouls in 17 minutes. 

Four months later, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year no longer has wide eyes and butterflies in her stomach.      

“I definitely think that Joyner has matured as a basketball player,” Aston said. “I mean, to go back and look at that film in that first game against Stanford is almost comical. Just from the standpoint of how young we were in a lot of areas and how really disconnected we were.”

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer took notice of Holmes’ development over the course of the season and knows that this time around, the matchup between the Cardinal and the Longhorns will be more of a “heavyweight fight.”   

“(Holmes) is a terrific freshman,” VanDerveer said. “Sometimes, honestly, she’s a woman with girls. She is so physically strong, and her rebounding is off the charts.”

Aston is impressed with how well the Cardinal perform on defense, but Stanford’s overall experience as a program and offensive depth are also strengths.   

“They’re very seasoned,” Aston said. “They don’t get rattled by anything. They’re seeded better than us, they’re supposed to win and it’ll take a really special effort on our part to win.” 

The third-seeded Longhorns and second-seeded Cardinal square off Friday at 7 p.m. CT with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.