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Bohls: Vic Schaefer makes his coaching debut a strong one for defensive-minded Texas

  • “Exactly as advertised,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said after watching the game from the press box and robustly rooting on his team. “He’s one of the finest coaches in the country, and we’re fortunate to have him.”
  • The climb back to national relevance won’t happen overnight, not with limited shooters and only nine players available because of injuries and one more pending appeal to the NCAA to seek immediate eligibility for 6-4 Penn State transfer Lauren Ebo.

Vic Schaefer stood at courtside in front of the Longhorns bench on Wednesday, facing what constitutes a crowd these days at the Erwin Center and proudly joined in belting out “The Eyes of Texas” after his debut as the Texas women’s basketball coach.

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2020, file photo, Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer shouts at an official during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Schaefer took Mississippi State to the national championship game twice before returning home to Texas as coach of the Longhorns. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford, File)

He knows the words by heart.

“When ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was played, I was pretty jacked,” the 59-year-old Austin native and former Sam Houston State head coach and Texas A&M assistant said. “I’ve heard that song a lot.”

He figures to hear it in plenty celebrations to come. But this rendition after a methodical 90-51 rout of SMU in front of a few hundred fans proved very sweet for the coach who not only put Mississippi State on the map in his eight historic seasons there, but made the Bulldogs a national power with two national championship game appearances, one after a huge upset of UConn.

While it was a disappointing homecoming for former Longhorns great Travis Mays and his overmatched Mustangs, the win thrilled Schaefer in his first home game in his new job as well as his boss.

“Exactly as advertised,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said after watching the game from the press box and robustly rooting on his team. “He’s one of the finest coaches in the country, and we’re fortunate to have him.”

Schaefer’s hoping to return Texas to glory, but it’s been a powerhouse more in name than in winning numbers in the post-season since its only NCAA national championship in 1986. The climb back to national relevance won’t happen overnight, not with limited shooters and only nine players available because of injuries and one more pending appeal to the NCAA to seek immediate eligibility for 6-4 Penn State transfer Lauren Ebo.

She’s exactly the kind of cavalry this shallow Texas team needs to shore up its razor-thin depth and make any kind of statement in the first year for Schaefer and his talented staff.

Texas (1-0), which hosts North Texas on Sunday, hopes to hear about Ebo’s status in the next week or so and could profoundly use her to take pressure off 6-5 Charli Collier, who showcased her skills with 25 points but also her tendency to be foul-prone with two early whistles in the first five minutes that sent her to the bench for the rest of the first half.

“We almost put up a hundred,” said Collier, who chastised herself for her mental slip-ups and quick foul trouble. “That’s a good statement. But we had some hiccups too.”

The Longhorns, with just two main players back from a 19-11 team, won’t be a skilled team from the perimeter and will likely see more than their share of zone defenses this season. They don’t have anything close to a pure shooter, say as Mays was when he paced Tom Penders’ run-heavy clubs.

But they’ll atone by forcing turnovers (35 of them Wednesday), getting to the free-throw line with dribble drives (36 attempts to SMU’s 13) and taking charges (five).

“I don’t think we played very well at all,” said Mays, who has four starters back. “But I don’t think Texas played extremely well, either. I know that’s hard to say when you look up at the score.”

Schaefer liked what he saw for the most part and especially the scoreboard.

“I’d grade ‘em an A on how hard they played and probably a B on an overall grade,” Schaefer said of his team. “I was not pleased with the last five minutes of the game. I don’t think we even scored.”

It’s that kind of attention to detail and inability to gloss over mistakes that could will this team to greater heights than some think possible. Texas was guilty of nine turnovers — an age-old problem here — but had just two in a near-perfect third quarter before the subs took over.

The Longhorns haven’t even been to the Final Four since 2003 and just once in the last 33 seasons, but this emotionally intense perfectionist of a coach will likely return this program to those heights.

Just not this season.

His team will excel at using its athleticism at guard play from Celeste Taylor, Joanne Allen-Taylor and Karisma Ortiz to get to the basket with dribble penetration and convert inside with Collier. If Collier is the face of the program, the 5-11 Taylor is the legs and this team’s driving force while Allen-Taylor and hard-charging Audrey Warren had big contributions as well.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Schaefer said. “This has to be our identity. It can’t change. You win with guard play because they set the tone. And you win championships with guard play and size.”

For the first game, he got terrific play from his backcourt. Taylor’s as athletic as they come and got to the basket with ease. But he’s coaching until the final horn as he was in the last five frustrating minutes with reserves — most of them freshmen — as he was the rest of the game.

“They deserve my intensity and my focus the last five minutes as much as the first 35,” he said. “I told the players, ‘I’m not letting y’all slop it up out here. That’s not how we finish a game.”

But this represented a solid start for a strong-minded team and a coach bent on taking it far.

Still, there was no Gatorade bath for Schaefer in the locker room.

“No,” Collier said, “it’s too early for that.”