By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Longhorns’ quick fall from preseason No. 3 all the way to unranked was one of the biggest disappearing acts of the women’s college basketball season.
They’re still unranked, but it’s easy to find them now. Just look at the top of the Big 12 standings.
Wednesday night’s 78-58 whacking of No. 14 Oklahoma pulled the Longhorns into a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 with the Sooners and No. 18 Iowa State.
Texas now has wins over both. The Longhorns are shaping into a team few are going to want to face as they chase the league crown and that ever-important chance to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Texas held the No. 3 scoring team in the country nearly 30 points before their average, and under 60 points for the first time in two seasons. The Longhorns (15-6, 6-2) are 14-0 when holding opponents under 60.
“I don’t understand why Texas isn’t ranked,” Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk said.
Early season injuries and inconsistency easily explain why.
Sparkplug point guard Rori Harmon missed the first five games of the season with a toe injury and Texas lost three in a row, including top-10 matchups with UConn and Louisville.
Harmon’s return should have stabilized the lineup, but another blow came when forward Aaliyah Moore was lost for the season Dec. 13 with a torn knee ligament. Moore was a pre-season all-conference selection after she posted consecutive 18- and 21-point games in the NCAA Tournament.
The Longhorns struggled to deal with the lineup disruptions and some of their own bumps and bruises, coach Vic Schaefer said.
“I don’t think we’ve handled it well at all,” Schaefer said this week before playing Oklahoma. “Part of athletics is there are going to be some injuries and how you respond. We’re not very tough. Its an Achilles of this team. I’ve had some teams in the past, their success wasn’t because how skilled they were, their success was because how tough we were, how competitive we were.”
But Schaefer also noted his teams typically play better late in the season. That was definitely the case the last two years when the Longhorns made consecutive runs to the Elite Eight and beat Baylor for the Big 12 tournament championship in 2022.
“What happened with Rori earlier this year was just bad luck. We got her back now, so obviously we’re a little bit different in a lot of ways with her running the point,” Schaefer said.
Texas briefly snuck back into the rankings after home wins over then No. 23 Kansas and Iowa State, but quickly fell out after losing on the road at Texas Tech.
When Baylor joined among the unranked this week, it marked the first time in the 47-year history of The Associated Press poll that no team from the state of Texas was ranked.
Schaefer tried to downplay that dubious distinction, but it’s a critical and ominous hurdle to overcome as the postseason approaches.
The women’s NCAA Tournament plays the first two rounds at campus sites. That heavily favors the teams selected to host and play on their home court.
Texas hosted each of the last two seasons. The Longhorns have a lot of ground to make up to do so again, but winning a Big 12 title would likely have them in the mix to open the postseason in their new campus arena in a year the Final Four is just three hours up the road in Dallas.
They have their arch-rival’s vote.
“I think they should host,” Baranczyk said.
Schaefer insists he’s not projecting that far ahead. Texas next plays Oklahoma State, which beat the Longhorns in the first matchup.
“I’m just game to game. That’s all I can do,” Schaefer said. “If we do our job, if we do what we’re capable of doing, we’ll see where it all shakes out in March.
“Pay attention to my teams. Over the past 13 seasons, my teams always continue to get better. I think this team will continue to work and get better. When we get to March, we’ll figure it all out,” Schaefer said.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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