PALO ALTO, Calif. — Contrary to popular opinion these days, basketball wasn’t invented in Austin.
It was just perfected there.
And it won’t get any better than this week, when the Longhorns’ men’s and women’s college basketball teams both play in the Final Four.
Two days after the UT men clinched a Final four berth, Jody Conradt’s women’s team punched its own ticket by crushing top-seeded Louisiana State 78-60 in the West Regional final on Tuesday night.
This net-cutting thing could become habit-forming.
If Austin isn’t the basketball capital of the world, it’s in the vicinity. There’s no doubt its location has moved from Norman, Okla., where the Sooners’ men’s and women’s reached last year’s Final Fours without bringing home a national championship.
But then no school with men’s and women’s teams in a Final Four in the same season has left with even one trophy, much less two.
Oklahoma couldn’t do it last year. Duke isn’t flying a banner for a title from 1999. Neither is Georgia after its two teams advanced that far in 1983.
Still, a word to the wise: don’t bet against either Texas club this year unless you like empty pockets.
“I think it’d be so cool if we both won,” said Texas’ Kala Bowers, who’s dating a trainer on the men’s team. “It’d be big party times.”
The party’s already started. Texas rocks, baby.
The festivities began at cozy Maples Pavilion when former Stanford and current Texas point guard Jamie Carey came off the court where she started her career and hugged Conradt.
Carey epitomizes this hard-nosed team, which came together during sweaty summer workouts at the Rec Center during which Tai Dillard might as well have had a whip.
“Whenever somebody wanted to leave early, I’d get a little agitated,” said Dillard, the lone senior starter.
Connecticut, Texas’ opponent in Sunday’s semifinals, may have won 70 straight over two seasons before finally losing in early March, but Texas now has the nation’s longest winning streak at 17. And counting.
This was how the West was won. The Horns did it with smart play. They made 10 of 11 free throws. They rebounded like missed shots were their last nickel. They ran when they could, set up in a half-court offense when they couldn’t.
A metronome isn’t this efficient.
Despite playing in two time zones, they’ve taken all four postseason games with ease, winning by 13 points or more.
It comes as no surprise that the second-seeded Longhorns are still playing. They’ll be rubbing elbows with three No. 1 seeds in Duke, Tennessee and UConn.
While Rick Barnes’ bunch joins a pair of No. 3 men’s seeds in Syracuse and Marquette, parity hasn’t crashed the women’s party. In 22 years, 67 of 88 Final Four teams have been seeded first or second.
In keeping with that pattern, Texas is one of the elite, which — considering it started the year 7-4 and thought defense was an afterthought — is all the more remarkable. Conradt was so ticked at one point, she was threatening to “run ’em till the earth’s flat.”
The message sunk in after an 18-point loss to these same Lady Tigers. Following that road trip in late December, Conradt came home and handed out the game tape to each Longhorn for private screenings.
“Coach was so mad,” forward Heather Schreiber recalled.
Texas has lost twice since. It fell by four points on the road to Ohio State and lost by two at Kansas State when Bowers’ game-tying bucket came after time expired.
Conradt marked the loss to the Wildcats as a crossroads game in a season that has returned traditional powerhouse Texas to its rightful perch.
“The players didn’t come home disappointed,” she said. “They came home mad.”
Ever since that loss on Jan. 25, the Longhorns have taken the court with a quiet determination and a steely resolve.
“I wish I could bottle it,” Conradt said.
The Longhorns were so good Tuesday, they even got rebounds of their own air balls. Annissa Hastings retrieved Schreiber’s errant three-pointer, one of the few shots missed by the sophomore, who had 32 points. Carey, who commits a turnover about once a presidential term, was flicking no-look passes. Even 5-foot-8-inch Nina Norman was blocking shots.
“It’s like we were digging ourselves a 10-foot hole,” LSU Coach Sue Gunter said, “and we’ve only got an 8-foot ladder.”
Lately, it’s been Texas climbing the ladders, the better to cut down nets.