AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas basketball is rolling — both the men and the women — and making a splash among the nation’s best just two seasons after both had seemed to hit bottom.
The Longhorns men are ranked No. 9 and the women are No. 3, making this the first season the Texas men have been ranked in to the top 10 and the women in the top five since late December 2009.
None of that seem attainable in 2013 when fans were calling for men’s coach Rick Barnes to be fired after his first losing season in 15 years, and the women were coming off a losing season under first-year coach Karen Aston.
There is no guarantee the men (9-1) or women (9-0) can maintain their success. Just look at the 2009-2010 season
The men started that season 17-0 and rose as high as No. 1 for the first time ever. But they were unranked by March and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The women rose as high as No. 4 but finished fourth in the Big 12 and also were bounced early from the tournament that year
Both squads now look rebuilt for the long run, thanks to recruiting that landed big-time players and found a few gems others had overlooked.
The men have five returning starters and the addition of highly touted freshman forward Myles Turner, who had 26 points, nine rebounds and six blocks Tuesday night against Lipscomb. Turner is arguably Texas’ biggest recruit since Kevin Durant, but even he has to fight for playing time in a Texas’ deep lineup.
He has yet to start a game despite averaging 12.5 points, second-best on the team.
“I have high expectations for myself, and I’ve lived up to a couple of them,” Turner said. “But not all of them.”
Perhaps just as important has been the standout play of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who was one of the big surprises in the Big 12 last season. Taylor has been sidelined for nearly a month with a broken left wrist but he is expected to return at some point this season.
The only blemish for Texas so far has been a tough road loss at No. 1 Kentucky while Taylor was out.
The women are still unbeaten and already have two impressive wins over national powers Stanford and Tennessee. They face old rival No. 4 Texas A&M on Sunday in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I knew we had the potential,” senior forward Nneka Enemkpali told the Longhorn Network this week. “We’ve worked so hard, the fact that we are the third-ranked team in the country doesn’t mean as much as the journey to get here.”
Enemkpali has been the rock behind Aston’s rebuilding project. She was one of the top recruits in the country when she signed with Texas and played just one season before coach Gale Goestenkors abruptly quit with two years left on a contract that was paying her more than $1 million per year.
Big things had been expected from Goestenkors, who left a powerhouse program at Duke to succeed Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who won a national title with the Longhorns in 1986 and reached the Final Four as recently as 2003.
But while Goestenkors never had a losing season, the program fell behind rivals like Baylor and Texas A&M, who both won national titles. Texas hired Aston, who had been an assistant under Conradt and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey before head coaching jobs at Charlotte and North Texas.
Aston’s first season was as 12-18 struggle but the Longhorns quickly rebounded with a 22-12 finish last season, good for third place in the Big 12.
“I had hoped we’d be a contender for a conference championship (by year three),” Aston said. “I don’t think I set a timetable that by third year we’d be capable of being a team that could go to the Final Four or make a splash nationally.”
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