Joyner Holmes was frustrated.
The sophomore forward spent nearly half the season serving a semester-long suspension in the fall. When she returned, she was relegated to the bench despite starting in all but two games last season. Through five games this year, she averaged just 7.4 minutes.
And, to top it off, No. 7 Texas lost to unranked TCU on Wednesday night. Holmes played 10 minutes and turned the ball over three times.
“I think if anybody was in my position, at this point, I’d think you’d have some frustration,” Holmes said. “Just waking up knowing that I’m as good as the players that are playing and I just want to be able to contribute in any way I can.”
Prior to the Longhorns’ 79-62 win over Kansas at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday, head coach Karen Aston made sure to go over film with her team and encouraged the players to sharpen their attention to detail. Holmes took the advice to heart. Aston noticed.
“She kind of had a look like ‘I know I’ve got to start valuing my reps so that I can get myself back in game mode,” Aston said. “And I thought that she had her best practice (Friday).”
Aston rewarded Holmes’ work ethic with more opportunities in Texas’ victory over Kansas on Saturday.
Senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau was held out of the game with a quad contusion suffered against the Horned Frogs. Sophomore guard Alecia Sutton took Caron-Goudreau’s place in the starting lineup, but Holmes and senior guard Ariel Atkins took most of the minutes at power forward.
Holmes seemed uncomfortable at first. She finished the first half with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, two rebounds and two turnovers. The Longhorns were off to a slow start again, trailing 31-29.
Atkins was frustrated, too. She had four steals and two blocks by halftime, but Texas still couldn’t overtake the lead from the Jayhawks. She wasn’t sure what else she could do, so she consulted with her team.
“I’m no good to my team when I’m overhyped or trying to do too much,” Atkins said. “So, I talked to my coaches, even some of my teammates, and they just told me to calm down and play. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Atkins racked up 10 points and four rebounds in the third quarter, sparking a 16-4 run that gave Texas a nine-point lead. Holmes followed Atkins’ example.
The sophomore started crashing the boards and found chemistry sharing the paint with junior center Jatarie White. Holmes grabbed six offensive rebounds and dished out two assists on post feeds to White.
“(Holmes is) such a difficult matchup, not only for us but for a lot of teams in the country,” Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider said. “There’s very few players that have her size, strength and athleticism. And she dominated the glass in the second half.”
Atkins finished the game with 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a career-high six steals. Holmes finished with season-highs of 23 minutes, 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.
The Longhorns (14-2, 5-1 Big 12) will play host to No. 1 UConn (15-0, 5-0 American) on Monday at 6 p.m. Atkins knows it will take similar performances from her team to pull out the win.
“They’re a very good basketball team, we’re a good basketball team,” Atkins said. “These are the games that you want to come to Texas to play. But, when the ball tips, it’s time to play basketball.”