Texas never reached the Sweet 16 in Gail Goestenkors’ five years as head coach. In her last four seasons, Goestenkors failed to even get the Longhorns past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Karen Aston took over in 2012 with hopes of turning the once-dominant program back into a perennial power. Four years later, she achieved her goal as Texas reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003.
Aston didn’t turn Texas around overnight. The Longhorns posted a 12–18 record in Aston’s first season, marking Texas’ worst record since the turn of the century.
But the 2012–13 season is long forgotten for Aston and company. What will linger for quite some time, however, is losing to Connecticut in the NCAA tournament for the second-straight year.
“It’s a tough night for us,” Aston said after the 86-65 loss Monday. “Lots of seniors, lots of tears, lots of people that didn’t want this to end.”
But all good things must come to an end. And for Texas, this season was not just good; it was historically great.
The Longhorns posted a 31–5 record in 2015–16, reaching 30 wins for the first time since 2004. They also won 15 games in conference play, tying a program record.
The current crop of seniors is the first to play four seasons under Aston. The seniors have tallied more wins than the previous season each year and have advanced one step further in the tournament every year as well.
“You can look at situations when you’re successful, and they’re either going to make you complacent, or they’re going to motivate you,” Aston said. “And I do not see this team going in any direction other than being motivated.”
Even those who aren’t returning — namely senior center Imani Boyette — are optimistic about the future of Texas basketball.
“I think this team is amazingly better,” Boyette said when comparing this year’s team to last year’s. “So I’m excited to see what they do without me next year, and I’m just proud. Frustrated, but proud.”
If Texas sustains the success it’s currently enjoying, Aston said she hopes proper recognition will come its way.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t have anybody even interested in talking about Texas because I think we are a phenomenal basketball team,” Aston said. “And [we] very easily could have been in the Final Four had we gone into a different region.”
Next year’s squad will be led by a slew of talented guards. Sophomore guard Ariel Atkins shined in the tournament for Texas, averaging 18 points per game in four starts.
Freshman guard Lashann Higgs added 11.5 points per game in the tournament off the bench, and sophomore guard Brooke McCarty led the team in scoring and
Couple the collection of guards with the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, and Texas should be knocking on the Final Four’s door again next year.
But the ceiling for Aston’s program is not just the reaching the Final Four. She has higher aspirations than that.
“As much as 31–5 sounds unbelievable, and I do think that we were an unbelievable team and had an unbelievable year, we still don’t have a ring,” Aston said. “We are still chasing championships.”
In order to at least have the opportunity to play for a championship, Aston might want to cross her ring-less fingers and hope Texas doesn’t face UConn for the third-straight season.