AUSTIN (AP) — Texas got what it paid for when it hired coach Gail Goestenkors: a return to the NCAA tournament and new life injected into a stagnant program.
Coach G got a $1 million contract to leave Duke after 15 seasons, and the Longhorns she inherited might as well have been a million miles from the perch her Blue Devils enjoyed as one of the top teams in the country.
Texas was a dispirited bunch lacking chemistry and confidence when she arrived last April, and their one-year turnaround was better than most would have expected. After missing the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, Texas went 22-13 and made it to the second round.
The highlights included an early 10-game winning streak and a late-season rally from the brink of elimination from tournament contention. Texas won six games against ranked opponents, upsetting Big 12 heavyweights Oklahoma and Baylor three times.
Most important was the win over Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was a huge step for a program that had been gradually sliding backward after a Final Four appearance in 2003.
Goestenkors seemed to relish the change of scenery from the leafy Duke campus, embracing Austin's laid-back atmosphere while pushing players to excel. She was energized by the chance to motivate new players and start the process of returning Texas to its place among the country's elite programs.
Individually, Goestenkors and her staff turned the frenetic Brittainey Raven into a consistent scoring threat and coaxed a mean streak out of the skinny and shy Ashley Lindsey. She became a legitimate scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking presence in the post.
The night Texas was granted an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the coach who had been to four Final Fours with Duke said her first season with the Longhorns was one of the most rewarding of her career.
It wasn't all fun.
Blowout losses to Tennessee (92-67) and Connecticut (89-55) showed just how far Texas has to go. Tuesday night's loss to UConn was Texas' worst in the NCAA tournament.
Just getting to the tournament was a challenge. The Longhorns were 4-9 in the Big 12 and desperate for a win before ripping off five in a row. That burst got them into the NCAA tournament and proved that Goestenkors did indeed have a master plan that was starting to pay dividends.
As for the future, Texas loses only one senior and there is help on the way.
Shooting guard Erika Arriaran, who missed the entire season with injuries, should return and can be a 3-point weapon next season. Goestenkors' first recruiting class is highlighted by 6-foot-4 Ashley Gayle of Las Vegas, one of the top post players in the county.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.