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Golden: Longhorn women answered the late bell in KC sans Collier

Texas won in overtime after post Charli Collier fouled out with 2:54 left in the fourth quarter.

Texas coach Vic Schaefer celebrates with his players after Friday's win over Iowa State. The Horns will face top-seeded Baylor in Saturday's semifinals.
  • Guards Allen-Taylor and Lambert combined for 43 points
  • Freshman guard Ashley Chevalier scored five of her 11 points in overtime.
  • Texas had only eight available players

Texas post Charli Collier will soon depart for the WNBA, but if Friday was any indication, the Longhorns will be just fine next season, thank you.

With their best player watching from the sideline after fouling out of Friday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal against Iowa State, it all fell upon the shoulders of her teammates.

And they delivered.

The 84-82 overtime win was much bigger than advancing to the conference semifinals because it illustrated a blueprint of what a successful season will have to resemble in 2022.

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Coach Vic Schaefer has been roaming the sidelines for the better part of 35 years and told reporters he couldn’t remember a gutsier performance. The Horns had eight available players Friday with Audrey Warren and Karisma Ortiz both out, yet figured out a way to stave off elimination against an opponent that made them work for every single bucket.

The Horns played cleanly with 24 assists and only six turnovers — while forcing 18 —  and made the plays that had to be made in a wildly entertaining affair.

“You have to tip your hat to them,” Schaefer said. “Those kids battled their butts off today. I’ve been doing it a long time. I don’t know if I’ve been down numbers-wise like that since the ’90s at Sam Houston State. That’s like a lifetime for me.”

It was a game with Final Four intensity throughout and clutch play from both sides. Had the Longhorns blinked, they would have lost, because Iowa State and conference scoring champion Ashley Joens played that well.

This looked nothing like the Texas group that blew an 11-point lead with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter before pulling a no-show in the overtime of a 68-63 home loss to Oklahoma just three games ago.

Texas was full of fight. The shrinking violets from that game grew some thorns, answering each Iowa State run with runs of their own. Texas, without arguably the best player in the conference, played with a steely fearlessness and the type of unity that typified Schaefer’s Final Four teams at Mississippi State.

He’s a long way from StarkVegas, but Schaefer has to believe his new team is much closer to his vision than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

“I feel like we’re growing,” he said. “It’s one thing to talk the talk. It’s another to walk the walk, and I think we walked it today.”

Senior guard Kyra Lambert agreed.

“A lot has changed,” she said. “We’re a totally different team. The Oklahoma game helped us see a lot of what we had to work on. Today we had to put that on display.”

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Texas guard Joanne Allen-Taylor shoots over Iowa State's Lexi Donarski during the first half. Allen-Taylor has emerged as one of the leaders of UT's backcourt.

It came from everywhere. Freshman guard Ashley Chevalier, who played only four scoreless minutes in the regular-season finale against TCU, scored five of her 11 points in overtime, then stripped Joens to halt a potential game-tying possession in the final two minutes.

Joanne Allen-Taylor and Lambert combined for 43 points, and each forced a turnover in overtime. While Taylor got the Horns out of some first-half doldrums with a scoring spurt to end the half, Lambert knocked down two triples in 32 seconds of the fourth quarter to answer a Cyclones rally.

It was Allen-Taylor, Texas' most experienced returning guard from last season, who looked around the huddle before overtime and said, “This is our time.”

She may not know it, but Allen-Taylor has emerged as a leader in this backcourt. It helps that Lambert has provided a lift after coming over from Duke, but Allen-Taylor’s fire has spread to her teammates at the perfect time.

Props also have to go to Celeste Taylor, a 50% free-throw shooter, who went 6-for-6 from the stripe, including four makes in the final 28 seconds. The extra time in the gym at the line came in handy.

With Collier out, we got a glimpse at most of next season’s nucleus, though there’s some nice talent arriving with McDonald’s All-America guards Kyndall Hunter and Rori Harmon of Houston Cypress Creek and 6-foot-5 junior college transfer Femme Sikuzani.

The Horns will take on a different look with the guards becoming the first option in 2022.

This season’s first option faced double and triple teams for most of the afternoon, yet Collier still finished with 17 points and nine rebounds before she fouled out on an inbounds play with 2:54 left in the fourth quarter, a questionable offensive foul call to say the least.

She still has some work remaining in college — starting with what will probably be her final shot at conference champion Baylor, which has put the clamps on her over the years — but the way Texas showed up with its All-America candidate sitting on the bench will go a long way in establishing the right culture moving forward.

It’s what will have to happen for Schaefer to make inroads in a conference dominated by Kim Mulkey and Co. He didn’t mince words in his appearance on our "On Second Thought" podcast last month when I asked him about closing the gap with Baylor.

“We weren’t brought in here to close the gap,” he said. “We were brought in to beat Baylor.”

The Horns will get the Lady Bears in the semifinals Saturday. Baylor had an easy time of it with a 92-55 blowout of TCU, but the Horns, even if they lose to the top seed, should enter the NCAAs with more more belief.

They got it done without Charli. That means something.