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Golden: How defense was the highlight for Texas Longhorns' win over UCLA

Horns face Maryland in the Sweet 16

UCLA guard Kayla Owens is smothered by Texas defenders, from left, Karisma Ortiz, Joanne Allen-Taylor and Celeste Taylor during the first half of the Longhorns' 71-62 win Wednesday night. The third-seeded Bruins managed only 14 first-half points.
  • Texas held UCLA to 14 first-half points.
  • Backup post Lauren Ebo anchored an aggressive defense in place of foul-plagued post Charli Collier.

Defense.

Stifling, suffocating defense.

It’s why the Texas Longhorns are still dancing in late March.

When Vic Schaefer took this job, he proclaimed that his teams would guard you from the time you entered the city limits to the time you walked into the parking lot. Third-seeded UCLA found that out the hard way Wednesday night as Texas' woman-to-woman defense set a smothering tone in a first half the Bruins will remember for years to come.

Holding an opponent to just 14 points in the first half was something to behold, and the Horns made the ninth-ranked Bruins work very hard to get that many.

“Our kids played their guts out on that end,” Schaefer said.

Texas 71, UCLA 62:With father in the crowd, Celeste Taylor guides UT to the Sweet 16

Texas' 71-62 second-round win will be remembered more for guards Celeste Taylor, Joanne Allen-Taylor and Kyra Lambert playing all 40 minutes and combining for 57 points — 24 from Taylor, who has replaced that sophomore jinx label with a Supergirl cape. But a huge shoutout has to go to Lauren Ebo, who subbed for foul-plagued All-American Charli Collier and played one of her best games of the year.

Ebo’s contributions over 30 minutes cannot be measured in simple numbers — she scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds — but rather in the lift she provided in the area of intangibles. Twice she kept loose balls alive, allowing teammates to retrieve rebounds.

Texas guard Celeste Taylor defends against UCLA's Charisma Osborne while teammates Kyra Lambert and Lauren Ebo look on. The Longhorns produced one of their best defensive games of the season against the ninth-ranked Bruins.

The 6-foot-4 senior — who was cleared to play in December as the NCAA reversed an earlier decision against her after she transferred from Penn State, which had gone 7-23 — also made one of the pivotal defensive plays of the night when she stepped in front of UCLA All-American Michaela Onyenwere late in the third quarter to draw a charge. The Bruins star would later foul out.

Charli Collier:Having developed her game and voice, Collier is set for her last chapter at Texas

Ebo provided a needed space-eating physical presence in the paint with Collier sitting — Texas' own All-American played only 26 minutes — and that forced the trailing Bruins to fire away futilely from the perimeter, where they missed 18 of their 19 3-point attempts.

“She comes off the bench, but she does her job,” Taylor said. “She’s boxing out. She’s big. She gets those boards. She helps us out tremendously from setting screens to doing the little things. She caught a charge in the game. It’s just amazing to have a five player like that who gets after it.”

UCLA's Emily Bessoir shoots under pressure from Texas' Charli Collier, Lauren Ebo and Celeste Taylor during the second half Wednesday.

Schaefer said Ebo reminds him of former Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, who holds the NCAA record with 112 career double-doubles.

“Lauren is a good player, and she’s going to be great,” he said. “I just love how she plays. She has so much upside. You can’t move her. She has great feet and good hands.”

With Ebo anchoring the back end, Texas made things incredibly uncomfortable for UCLA in the backcourt with in-your-face pressure, forcing the Bruins to work hard early against the shot clock just to get into their sets. More often than not, they were forced to fire up a harried contested shot that had little chance of going in.

It gets no easier for Texas, which now must contend with second-seeded Maryland, the nation's leader in scoring, averaging 91.5 points. The Terps, who go 10 deep in their regular rotation, have reached the century mark seven times this season, the latest coming in a 100-64 destruction of Alabama for their first Sweet 16 since 2017 under national coach of the year Brenda Frese.

Texas coach Vic Schaefer calls out to the team during the first half against UCLA during a college basketball game in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Maryland, which has six players who average in double digits, ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage (.493) and second in 3-point field-goal percentage (.406).

The Horns will go in as a prohibitive underdog; oddsmakers deemed the Terps the fifth most likely team to capture the national title behind Stanford, UConn, Baylor and South Carolina before the NCAA Tournament started.

I don't expect Texas to win on Sunday, but Maryland will get a heavy dose of defensive pressure from the opening tip. Predictions aside, belief is a wonderful thing, and when a team sells out on the defensive end, success isn’t too far behind.

Schaefer made sure to mention that he's still coaching a vastly inexperienced team that is prone to bouts of hoops immaturity, but you get the sense that he is building something here.

It all starts with a coal miner’s work ethic on defense, and he has already secured the buy-in on that end that’s so very crucial to constructing a title contender. Dirty fingernails can lead to special moments. The Horns — depth challenged as they may be — have figured out that extra effort on that end takes mountains of pressure off the scorers.

Collier should show up for the third round with fire in her gut after a slow night at the office, and her coach will gently remind the team that UCLA scored 48 points in the second half. He will also tell them something they already know: The competition just went up a couple of notches.

If anything, Wednesday was a nod to a bright future. The Schaefer Effect is already being felt in Year One.