AUSTIN -- Imani McGee-Stafford didn't give third-ranked Texas a lot of points or rebounds Wednesday night.
She gave the Longhorns something more important: proof that she is on her way back.
McGee-Stafford, the star 6-foot-7 center, returned to the lineup for the first time this season after recovering from a stress fracture in her left leg. She played nine minutes as a reserve, contributing four points and four rebounds during a 76-59 victory over McNeese State.
But McGee-Stafford, a junior, could be a difference maker when the Longhorns (9-0) begin Big 12 competition on Jan. 3 against Kansas.
"She looks good," coach Karen Aston said. "As the days go along, she'll get more comfortable."
McGee-Stafford was anything but comfortable on Wednesday.
"I was really scared," McGee-Stafford said. "I don't feel as if I'm at the same level I was when I went down. I don't think it was a physical issue. It was all mental."
McGee-Stafford averaged 10.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game last season. She received All-Big 12 second team recognition.
Last season, McGee-Stafford was paired in the frontcourt with Nneka Enemkpali, a 6-1 power forward. Enemkpali, a senior, had 18 points and 14 rebounds against McNeese.
In McGee-Stafford's absence, 6-5 sophomore Kelsey Lang has developed so fast that she leads the team in scoring with 13.7 points a game -- eight more than last season. Lang had 18 points and nine rebounds against McNeese.
Aston envisions sometimes playing McGee-Stafford and Lang together.
"I thought about it at times last year, but it was not one that I felt comfortable with," Aston recently told The Associated Press. "But with the growth of Kelsey -- she's a little more mature -- that would be potentially a lineup we could play with."
Texas led by 27 early in the second half, but McNeese sliced the deficit to 10 with 11 minutes remaining. Jayln Johnson shot McNeese (5-4) back into the game, scoring 18 points in the first nine minutes after the break. She finished with 20 points. Guard Allison Baggett led McNeese with 22.
"I thought the girls responded really well and battled," McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams said.
Longhorn guard Brianna Taylor stopped McNeese's run with five straight points and then an assist, all in a span of 1:33. She scored 14 overall.
"We just relaxed and got a little undisciplined, a lot undisciplined, in the second half," Aston said. "We let them get hot and let them feel good about themselves. It's a win. We'll absolutely take it."
Texas: The Longhorns outrebounded McNeese 42-32. They have beaten every opponent this season on the boards, by an average margin of 15 a game.
McNeese State: Cowgirl guard Allison Baggett was one of five women recognized by the NCAA for their achievements last week. Baggett, a junior, scored 26 points against Centenary and followed up with a career-best 31 at Louisiana-Monroe. She averages 17 a game.
Texas's No. 3 ranking is its highest in 10 years. But one indication that the Longhorns might not be interlopers in the top-10 arrived on Tuesday.
Two high school seniors who signed with Texas in November, guard Lashann Higgs and forward Jordan Hosey, were named to the Naismith Trophy Girl's High School Player of the Year Watch list. The preseason list includes only 20 players. Higgs and Hosey are ranked among the top 10 recruits in the country by ESPN.com. A day later, the No. 11 player in the class of 2016, guard Alecia Sutton, from St. Louis, committed to Texas.
Texas: Plays Texas A&M Sunday in Little Rock, Arkansas.
McNeese State: At Rice on Friday.
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|Stephen F. Austin||16-4||1||23-6|
|Sam Houston State||14-6||3||19-10|