STANFORD, Calif. -- Texas coach Karen Aston said earlier this week that she was bringing her Longhorns to Stanford to have their weaknesses exposed.
Texas was indeed exposed at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night. The No. 10 Longhorns showed themselves to be a legitimate national power after upsetting the sixth-ranked Cardinal 87-81 in overtime.
Texas was unmistakably enthusiastic about their first win over an Associated Press top-10 opponent since they defeated fourth-ranked Baylor on Feb. 1, 2009, long before any of the players on this team were on the roster.
"I've been here for four years and to have the collective unity that this team, to have the feel that I had tonight, it isn't something I've experienced at all since I've been here," Texas senior forward Nneka Enemkpali said. "This is just a reestablishing of this program."
Texas (2-0) jumped and screamed and dog piled on the same spot where the Stanford students gathered just three days earlier to celebrate the Cardinal's upset of top-ranked Connecticut, a victory that vaulted Stanford to the No. 1 spot in the coaches' poll the next morning (the AP Top 25 is released every Monday).
Texas had no way of knowing when it planned this trip out to California that it would be in position to knock off a No. 1 team. That was just a bonus for a well-played game in which Texas scored from everywhere, got strong play in the post and from the guards and survived to win even after two of its starters fouled out.
"We talked about that before the game, the importance of playing the No. 1 team on their home court," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "And we emphasized that this was more about figuring out where we are as a team."
The Longhorns have depth and balance and are playing without arguably their best player in Imani McGee-Stafford, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury. And Aston certainly didn't like what she saw in the season-opening win over Texas-San Antonio, a game she considered to be a listless start for a team picked to win the Big 12.
"We've had growing pains just from inserting new people and people having different roles," Aston said, "so it was more of, let's just start playing as a basketball team, because we do feel like we can be a good team."
"This is just a reestablishing of this program." Texas senior Nneka Enemkpali
It was indeed a very good team that took down a Stanford squad that had taken down the national championship favorite just 72 hours earlier in overtime. And the Cardinal (1-1) looked like that effort might have sapped them, costing them the first game at Maples Pavilion since Jan. 13, 2013 -- a span of 28 home games.
"It did not look like we had the pep in our step that we needed," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Lili Thompson led Stanford with 28 points. Senior point guard Amber Orrange battled foul trouble most of the night. They were the only Stanford scorers in double figures.
"When you have a young team and the hype and ... even the fans seemed a little drained," VanDerveer said. "This is early November and this is like a tournament. You are going to play this caliber of teams in the NCAA tournament. Texas is very well-coached, they were extremely motivated, they are big, they are athletic and they got the better of us tonight."
But if a drained Stanford team opened the door, Texas kicked it wide by coming at the Cardinal from every direction on the offensive end -- the Longhorns had four players in double figures, led by Enemkpali with 18 (16 in the second half), and eight players scoring overall. Texas outrebounded Stanford 44-37 and outscored the Cardinal 34-24 in the paint, taking advantage of Stanford's youth inside.
Texas led for most of the game and the Cardinal never led by more than a basket, playing catch-up most of the night. Stanford rallied from eight points down with 9:19 to go before taking its only lead of regulation with 1:43 to go on Bonnie Samuelson's 3-pointer.
"Our team was excited to be in overtime. There was nothing about them that was dejected. They talked a lot among themselves," said Aston, whose team will also face Tennessee and Texas A&M in the nonconference. "That's where I'm so proud of them, because it's their team. They are the ones that decided they were going to give their best effort."
There is no question this is the most impressive win for this program in Aston's tenure and dating back even further. Texas has been struggling to get back to its place as one of the nation's elite programs since the legendary Jody Conradt retired in 2007. Gail Goestenkors left Duke to take over the Longhorns, but her tenure was marked by underachieving finishes and early NCAA tournament exits. Aston was an assistant at Texas from 1998-2006 under Conradt.
"I think this was a big opportunity for us," said Texas junior guard Empress Davenport, who scored one-on-one against Thompson with 1.3 seconds to go to tie the score and send the game to overtime (she finished with 13 points). "I don't want to say we came here to make a statement, because obviously people think we are good. But we have to prove ourselves. We did that tonight.
"It was fun for me, and I know it was fun for my team."
Beating one of the country's stalwart programs on one of the toughest home courts in the game is a good start.