Goestenkors has Longhorns back in Big 12 mix

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Gail Goestenkors had about all a basketball coach could hope for at Duke, except a national championship. She had her fair share of McDonald's All-Americans, a handful of conference championships and routine appearances in the Final Four.

Then she gave it all up to start over at Texas.

"I thought, 'Let me just try one more challenge, help to rebuild a program,' because there's a certain level of excitement that goes along with that," Goestenkors said Wednesday at Big 12 media day. "At Duke, we were to the point that if we didn't get to the Final Four, it was devastation."

Goestenkors knew the expectations would follow her to Texas, and she wouldn't have had it any other way. Having taken the first big step by taking the Longhorns back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence, she embarks on her second season of rebuilding with the rest of the Big 12 already taking notice.

Her colleagues picked Texas to finish second in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma and All-America center Courtney Paris, despite a slew of returning players among the conference's many existing powers.

"I'm trying to figure that out myself. It was pretty high, I think, considering where we finished -- seventh in the league," Goestenkors said. "But our goal, like everyone else's goal probably in the Big 12, is to win the Big 12."

There was an adjustment period for Goestenkors after she left the shadow of Coach K's basketball dynasty and moved to the home of the nation's top-ranked football team.

Her players were used to the gentler style of Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who retired after winning her 900th career game, and Coach G's intensity came as a bit of a shock.

"It was totally different, the playing style, the practices, the conditioning, all of that. Coach Conradt was really soft-spoken. She didn't really yell at us a lot," said Brittainey Raven, the Longhorns' top scorer last season. "As soon as Coach G came in, it was just like a switch-around."

It all hit home a day after Texas' overtime loss to Kansas State last season, when Goestenkors arrived at practice to find her team chatting away in the locker room.

"She flipped," Raven said. "She was like, 'Did we not just lose yesterday?' I remember getting up to the gym and we practiced forever."

The tough love eventually started working, though. After a 1-6 stretch late in the season all but ended the Longhorns' NCAA Tournament hopes, they came back with a five-game winning streak to sneak in as a No. 8 seed.

"That's what we needed. We needed somebody to get in there and push us and force us to do certain things instead of just letting us get by," Raven said.

Goestenkors hopes her team can pick up where it left off, and continue to grow accustomed to her in-your-face style -- which carries over onto the court in her defensive game plans. She challenged Raven to become the national defensive player of the year, telling her she had the potential to mimic former Tennessee star Tamika Catchings.

"She's going to push me to do it," Raven said. "I know she's going to get on me even if I take off for one game or for a few minutes."

Goestenkors is accumulating the tools to make a run at the Sooners and the Big 12's other powers. Along with Raven, she has shooting guard Erika Arriaran back after missing last season with injuries and has added 6-foot-4 McDonald's All-American Ashley Gayle to a roster that lost only one player.

That's the status quo in the conference, though. Iowa State and Oklahoma have everyone back from last season's NCAA Tournament teams; Baylor lost star point guard Angela Tisdale but has a senior-laden lineup led by Jhasmin Player, who's returning from a knee injury; Oklahoma State scoring machine Andrea Riley is back for an encore after the Cowgirls' run to the regional semifinals; and don't forget defending champ Texas A&M, which still has the core of its team that reached a regional final last season, minus A'Quonesia Franklin.

While Oklahoma led the preseason coaches' poll, four other teams got first-place votes.

"I don't think anybody in here is totally convinced they're going to win. I think that's how equal it is," Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke said. "I mean, how do you pick A&M fifth? They've got two of the top players in this conference back that won the Big 12 tournament last year.

"I think there's easily five or six teams that can be in the mix this year. I guess you've got to pick someone 11 and 12, but I promise you there's nobody that wants to go play 11 and 12 on their home floor, either."