By Ian Shogren
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kelsey Lang has answered the call for third-ranked Texas.
When All-Big 12 center Imani McGee-Stafford underwent preseason surgery, forcing her to miss the first eight games of the season, Lang made the most of her increased role by leading the Longhorns in scoring during one of the best starts in program history -- an undefeated non-conference slate for the first time since the 1985-86 season.
Head Coach Karen Aston credits a new confidence that stemmed from offseason work in the development of the 6-foot-5 sophomore center.
“Kelsey committed herself to a very disciplined regiment in the offseason to put herself in better physical condition,” the third-year Texas coach said. “When you think that you're in really great shape, stronger, faster, that's going to build your confidence. That is mental toughness because of the work she has put up.”
The Woodlands, Texas native has nearly doubled her production from an impressive freshman campaign, in which she played in all 34 games with 13 starts. This season during non-conference play, she led the team in scoring (13.5 ppg), minutes played (27.8 mpg) and field goal percentage (.624), while ranking second in rebounding (6.5 rpg).
Lang has shined the brightest on the Longhorns’ biggest stages by averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in UT’s wins over three top-10 teams -- No. 6/1 Stanford, No. 4/5 Tennessee and No. 4/5 Texas A&M. Lang’s torrid stretch through non-conference play included nine double-figure scoring efforts and her first Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week honor on Dec. 1 after leading Texas to victory against the Lady Vols.
Although Aston credits Lang’s jump shot as one of the best on the team, her score-first mentality didn’t come naturally. During her high school career at The Woodlands, Lang’s offensive bread-and-butter was drawing the double- or triple-team and passing to the open teammate. As she transforms into a key offensive threat, Aston and the Longhorns are reaping the benefits.
“Kelsey is proving herself,” Aston said. “I think you could see how critical she is to our team’s success. She is a driving force from the post perspective.”
Opponents are taking notice too.
UT-Pan American Head Coach Larry Tidwell commented on how important Lang is to Texas after she posted a career-high 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting en route to a 72-45 victory over the Broncs on Nov. 26.
“Kelsey is a really big figure in making (Texas) go,” Tidwell said. “They play that really good pressure-defense when they really need to – like when they did when Jody Conradt was coaching. That defense is what won Texas a national championship and they got that back.”
With McGee-Stafford returning from injury in time for Big 12 play, paired with Lang’s improvement and the consistent effort from national player of the year candidate Nneka Enemkpali, the third-ranked Longhorns are poised to have one of the strongest frontcourts in the nation during the final stretch of the season. That added depth is key reason why national championship hopes have returned to the Forty Acres.
“At the beginning of the season, we write down our goals of what we want to accomplish throughout the season,” Lang said. “Getting to Tampa is obviously the number one goal.”