High praise for Lashann HiggsLed by Higgs, Longhorns pride themselves on defense
Bahamian Lashann Higgs and the Texas Longhorns are turning heads in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) this season.
At number two nationally, the Longhorns have its highest ranking in 14 years. They breezed past Georgia, 81-53, at the Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia, on Sunday, to remain unbeaten through seven games this season. Georgia fell to a 7-1 win/loss record, 4-1 at home. The University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies, who have won four of the past five national titles, remained the unanimous top team in the nation from the 32-member national media panel on Monday. The Longhorns are at number two, it’s highest ranking since 2004.
Higgs, in her first year as a full-time starter, was a catalyst for the team with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds, a steal and no turnovers. The 5’9” junior guard is third on the team in scoring, at 11.9 points per game, third in field goal percentage at 59.2, and fourth in assists at 2.26 per game.
Head Coach Karen Aston loves the aggressiveness of her young combo guard.
“Lashann has shown incredible growth,” Coach Aston said to the Associated Press. “It makes it easier on our older players when Lashann plays how she’s been playing. I think we did a good job attacking.”
Ariel Atkins, a senior guard who is on the watch list for the 2018 Citizen Naismith Player of the Year Trophy, led the Longhorns with 17 points and nine rebounds against Georgia. Jatarie White added 13 points and six rebounds, and Brooke McCarty who is also on the Naismith watch list, contributed a dozen along with Higgs.
The Longhorns hit seven of their first 11 shots from the field to go up 22-9 at the end of the first quarter, and never looked back. Georgia pulled within seven in the second, but the Longhorns surged ahead 46-27 at the break, and the Georgia Lady Bulldogs never got to within single digits the rest of the way.
The Longhorns are winning their games by an average of 35.29 points per game, but is yet to play a team in the Associated Press’ Top 25. They will face their first real test this Saturday when they travel to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the No. 11 ranked Tennessee lady Volunteers. The match-up will be televised live on ESPN2.
So far this season, the Longhorns have emerged as the nation’s top-scoring team, but really pride themselves on defense and rebounding. Dating back to the start of the 2015-16 season, Texas has won the battle of the boards in 67 of 77 total games.
Higgs, in particular, is known as a defensive stopper on the team, usually drawing the opposing team’s best backcourt player on defensive assignments.
“She has seen in her years here what has been a really important part of our team is someone who will take the responsibility to guard the other team’s best perimeter player,” Aston said on the team’s website. “She worked most of all on just her self-confidence and her ability to kind of overcome when things don’t go well. I think that’s been the biggest stopping point for her, is getting too down on herself and not being able to move to that next play.”
Stepping up as a defensive stopper was more than a change on the court for Higgs. Aston said it also served as a reflection of her hard work and the ongoing process of building confidence in herself.
Higgs chose to work on her weaknesses, accepting the frustrations associated with finding consistency and mental toughness. Constantly going up against an opponent’s best player can be a discouraging job, but Higgs said the key is to want to keep trying.
“It’s something you have to tell yourself you’re going to do because if you don’t have confidence doing it, regardless of how good the other player is, they’re going to tear you apart,” Higgs said on the team’s website. “You have to be just as mentally strong or even stronger than the best player that you’re going up against.”
As for the Longhorns, prior to the game against Georgia, they led the nation in both scoring offense and scoring margin, was fifth in rebound margin (plus 16.5) and assists per game (22.0), and ranked seventh in field-goal percentage with a 50.9 percent clip.
Texas has 30 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances, 14 Sweet Sixteen appearances including three straight, nine Elite Eight showings, three Final Fours and one national title.
Just this week, Texas surpassed Georgia for second-most appearances in the Associated Press poll, all-time. The Longhorns have appeared in the AP poll for 523 weeks all-time, while the Lady Bulldogs have been ranked 522 times.
Texas ranks fifth all-time in NCAA history with 1,043 all-time victories.
The 2017 Longhorns’ roster has plenty depth, and it’s about to get even better when Joyner Holmes, the 2016 Big 12 freshman of the year, returns to the team on December 23 following an NCAA rules violation that was revealed in July. Holmes averaged 12.1 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds and played a big role in the Longhorns advancing to a third straight Sweet Sixteen last year.