Posted March 22nd, 2018
Last week we remembered the men’s team that reached the 2003 Final Four. This week, let’s look at the women’s team.
Texas coach Karen Aston will lead her Longhorns into their fourth straight Sweet 16 game Friday. That’s an impressive accomplishment, even if some think Texas’ 1-2 record in the Sweet 16 is under achieving. That’s ridiculous.
Reaching the Sweet 16 is an accomplishment, but Texas is probably going to have to reach the Final Four to validate Aston’s incredible rebuilding job of the last six years.
And if they make the Final Four this year it’ll be the first appearance since 2003.
Let’s remember that team:
Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt’s 2003 roster featured standout players Heather Schreiber and Stacy Stephens and received a boost when Stanford transfer Jamie Carey joined the team as a point guard.
Carey’s story is incredible. Injuries and concussions forced her to retire from the sport after her freshman season at Stanford in 1999. She was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. In 2002 she transferred to Texas and received medical clearance to play and became one of the top players on the 2002-2003 team.
Meanwhile, Stephens averaged 14.4 points per game and Schreiber 14.3 that season to lead the team.
The season got off to a rocky start. BYU handed Texas a 79-63 loss in Provo, Utah and few games later Texas lost to New Mexico on the road 77-70. At 2-2 on the season, Texas went on four game winning streak and stunned No. 4 Tennessee in Austin in front of 9.057 fans 63-62. After a 16 day break following that win, Texas lost to No. 2 LSU in Baton Rouge 76-58 and lost again two games later in Columbus, Ohio to the unranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Texas went 15-1 the rest of the regular season– 15-1 in the Big 12. The only loss was to No. 3 Kansas State in Manhattan, 71-69. Texas won the Big 12 Tournament title with a 10-point win over No. 7 Texas Tech.
Texas received the No. 2 seed in the West Region, with LSU as the No. 1 seed. They were sent to Cincinnati for the round of 64 and 32 games. After dispatching Hampton 90-46, Texas avoided the hometown Bearcats in the round 32 after Arkansas advanced 71-57 as the No. 7 seed. Texas reached its second straight Sweet 16 by beating the former Southwest Conference rival 67-50.
The host site of the West Regional was Palo Alto, Calif. LSU was set to play in-state rival Louisiana Tech, while Texas drew Big Ten foe Minnesota.
Texas hadn’t reached the Elite Eight since 1990, but did so with relative ease by beating the Gophers 73-60 to set up a rematch with LSU in the Elite Eight.
Having lost by 18 points in December to the Tigers, the Longhorns had some doubters. But Texas blasted the Tigers 78-60 to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1986.
The Statesman wrote: “The hottest team in the nation was hotter than it has been all season in a game-turning first half Tuesday night.”
The win made Texas’ streak 17games — the longest in the nation at the time.
Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wrote, following the women joining the men in the Final Four: ” Contrary to popular opinion these days, basketball wasn’t invented in Austin.”
Texas drew Connecticut, coached by Geno Auriemma, in the Final Four in Atlanta. Tennessee faced Duke in the other National Semifinal.
Duke was coached by Gail Goestenkors who in four years would leave Durham to come to Austin. Duke was making back-to-back Final Four appearances. Tennessee was led by one of the greatest basketball coaches ever, Pat Summitt.
Counting Conradt, there were three Hall of Fame coaches in Final Four– not to mention the two greatest women’s basketball coaches of all-time (Auriemma and Summitt) and Goestenkors , who despite her mediocre run in Austin, was considered one of the best in the business at the time.
Now if you think UConn is good now, you should have been around back then. The Huskies had a 70 game winning streak snapped earlier in March and were led by arguably the greatest women’s basketball player of all time, Diana Taurasi.
One of the most interesting notes from the archives is this tidbit about Auriemma :
Geno Auriemma remembers visiting Austin during the 1987 Final Four and dreaming of one day running a women’s basketball program like the one at the University of Texas.
The Philadelphia native said the only thing he knew about Texas before then was that he was supposed to hate the Dallas Cowboys. But that all changed when he pulled up to Red River Drive.
“It was bigger than life,” he said. “The Erwin Center was packed, and I thought how neat it would be to be in a situation where the women’s games were treated like men’s games.”
Sixteen years later, Auriemma has built that type of atmosphere at Connecticut by winning three national championships in 17 seasons. His team has made 14 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
One might say that Auriemma’s Connecticut program and Texas, the Huskies’ semifinal opponent today in the Final Four, have switched roles. While the Longhorns are back in the Final Four for the first time since 1987, the Huskies are playing in their seventh since 1991.
The Huskies entered the Final Four 35-1 on the year. Texas led by nine points in the game but UConn rallied and took a 2-point lead in the final minutes. Texas missed twice on shots that would have tied the game, but the Huskies held on to win 71-69 to the eventual national champions.
“It’s been terrific, but the most significant thing is that this is a team. I don’t think I’ve ever had a group that blended together so well,” Conradt told the Statesman. “There’s not a superstar, an Andrea Lloyd or a Clarissa Davis (UT stars of the 1980s). But this is all about cohesiveness, trust, unity — all of those things.”
UConn beat the Vols 73-68 in the title game.
After the Final Four
An interesting story out of the Final Four? With the headline ” UT assistant could be in demand after the season” young assistant coach Karen Aston, the associate head coach of the Longhorns at the time, was drawing interest from other programs. She was called “the best recruiter in the nation” by Conradt.
“It’s rumored that several programs are at least curious about Aston, including Arkansas, which has a head coaching vacancy after Gary Blair resigned to go to Texas A&M,” the Statesman reported.
Aston though had no plans to leave Texas at the time, telling the Statesman: “If we win a national championship, I’ll be ready to win another one next year.”
Aston stayed on staff at Texas until 2006, when she left Austin after eight years for Waco, where she coached one season under Kim Mulkey. It was actually her second stint at Baylor, where she coached from 1994-1996 under Sonja Hogg.
Aston’s first head coaching job came in 2007 when she was hired at Charlotte. She went 86-47 in four seasons before leaving for North Texas in 2011. After just one 15-16 season in Denton, Aston returned to Texas in 2012.
She is 125-56 at Texas.
Aston hired Carey to her staff in 2016.
“I am so thrilled to welcome Jamie Carey back to the Forty Acres and to Texas Basketball,” Aston said in a press release. “This was a national search process to find the right fit for our program and, in particular, our student-athletes. As we combed the country, Jamie kept coming to mind. She brings a wealth of knowledge regarding guard play and offensive schemes that is exciting.”