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Golden: Schaefer's program rebuild takes a first major step with NCAA Tournament win

Texas meets UCLA in the second round Wednesday

Texas head coach Vic Schaefer calls out plays to his team during Monday's 81-62 NCAA Tournament win over Bradley. It was Schaefer's first tourney win at Texas and the program's first since 2018.
  • Charli Collier led Texas with 23 points and 15 rebounds.

Vic Schaefer came here to win and Texas is getting a nice early return on its investment.

With the dominant Charli Collier soon to leave for the WNBA and a trio of highly ranked recruits coming in this fall, we can’t assume that Schaefer is charting a perfect path to national relevance, but it's safe to say he is somewhere between right on time and ahead of schedule.

It’s the start of a culture shift in the 512, and Schaefer has been given a truckload of greenbacks to knock down the door separating college basketball's haves from its have-nots.

“I’m just really proud of them and it brings joy to my heart because I know how hard these kids have worked,” Schaefer said after Mondays’ 81-62 first-round NCAA Tournament win over Bradley. “Change is hard. It’s really hard. We’re different. Our staff is different. Our demands are different. My style is different. I’m awfully proud of them because they have changed.”

Texas 81, Bradley 62:In NCAA tourney return, Charli Collier defends herself with her play

The blowout wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but represented an illustration of Schaefer’s recipe for success: going through the All-American Collier, playing hard-nosed defense, forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball on your end.

The 6-foot-5 Collier carved up the opposition with 23 points and 15 rebounds and played with smoldering intensity that had her coaches and teammates nodding in approval and appreciation.

Texas guard Celeste Taylor pulls down a rebound over Bradley guards Gabi Haack, center, and Mahri Petree. The Longhorns' 81-62 win moves them into a second-round matchup with third-seeded UCLA.

The defense had its hands full with Bradley guard Lasha Petree, who scored 33 points, but did enough to stay safely in front down the stretch, thanks to a huge lift from Audrey Warren, who scored 19 points, and solid support from Joanne Allen-Taylor and Celeste Taylor, who snagged seven rebounds and four steals.

The sixth-seeded Horns (19-9) turned 14 Bradley miscues into 22 points while committing only 10 of their own.

Schaefer goes only seven deep in his rotation, but it’s a cohesive seven that has a really good understanding of individual roles and the type of effort that the coach is demanding.

Women's basketball:Charli Collier is set for her last chapter at Texas

In Texas' last NCAA appearance, the Longhorns let an eight-point halftime lead slip away in a turnover-filled third quarter in a 2019 first-round loss to Indiana. Collier, Allen-Taylor and Warren were freshmen on that team.

“I probably played a total of 30 seconds, so it’s not really much I can say about that,” Collier said. “It was a good experience for the moment and that’s about it. Right now it’s just a really good experience to experience this with my teammates and my coaches. It’s just great to be here.”

Well, Collier is either displaying tremendous modesty or suffering from a bit of memory loss because the record shows she grabbed 10 rebounds in 15 minutes of action in that 2019 loss.

Texas guard Kyra Lambert drives against Bradley forward Tete Danso, center, and guard Lasha Petree during the second half of Monday night's first-round NCAA win. Lambert, a graduate transfer from Duke, is one of only four Longhorns with previous NCAA Tournament experience.

We can all agree that it was a sign of things to come. Texas' double-double machine is the focal point on both ends and the true barometer for this team’s fortunes. When Collier is good, Texas is good and when she struggles, the Horns are a safe bet to lose.

She faced double and sometimes triple teams for most of the night, but was simply too much of a physical challenge for Bradley to keep her from her appointed rounds. One can only imagine how good the Horns would be with Collier manning the middle along with the additions of Houston Cypress Creek stars Rori Harmon and Kyndall Hunter and Oklahoma’s Aaliyah Moore on board, but they'll have to forge ahead without the player who's expected to go No. 1 overall in next month's WNBA draft.

Golden:Shaka watch is back on after Texas' latest NCAA collapse

Schaefer is fiercely protective of Collier and his other players. It’s evident that he will do whatever it takes to have his players in the right frame of mind for the next challenge, which happens to be third-seeded UCLA on Wednesday.

That includes everything from keeping an eye on body language to keeping players loose during shootarounds to even providing a familiar treat for their taste buds.

On Monday morning, Schaefer sensed his team needed a pick-me-up in the breakfast department. The usual spread was fine, but he switched things up a bit, dispatching his daughter Blair, the team’s director of basketball operations, to call the local Chick-fil-A at 5:30 a.m. with a rather large order. When told by the manager that an order that size would require 24 hours notice, she didn't accept no as an answer.

The Horns got their chicken, and if national reputation means anything, Chick-fil-A for breakfast must have tasted pretty good.

Almost as good as visiting the winner’s circle and laying the first brick in Schaefer’s construction of a national power.