Golden: 'Don't underestimate us,' surging Longhorns say to NCAA Tournament critics
Texas faces South Carolina Tuesday
- Horns overcame 13-2 deficit to win 64-61
- Texas held Maryland to a season-low in points.
- Maryland led the nation in scoring at 91.8 points per game and was averaging 100.6 in its first two tourney games.
The Texas Longhorns shocked the basketball world but didn’t shock themselves.
As it turns out, Vic Schaefer’s defense travels outside the Austin city limits and the Horns are rolling downhill into the Elite Eight with a shot at making the Final Four for only the second time in 18 seasons.
Top-seeded South Carolina will be a prohibitive favorite in Tuesday’s Elite matchup, but it doesn’t matter what the oddsmakers are saying. After all, the sixth-seeded Horns were a two-touchdown underdog to Maryland — which has enjoyed some nice recent success against Texas in that other sport — before they sent the Terps packing in a Sunday night barn burner at the Alamodome.
The Longhorns (21-9) punctured all four tires on Maryland’s high-performance offense and took away the spare for good measure. The 64-61 win was arguably the sweetest Sweet 16 victory in program history because it came against a team many thought would run the Horns out of the Alamo City and into the offseason.
For subscribers:Golden: Why Shaka Smart had to leave Texas after six seasons
The victors had other ideas. They methodically slowed down their own offense and then sped up the Terps in their sets. Texas won the tempo battle on both ends and stymied Maryland, which was on the biggest offensive tear in program history, averaging a national best 91.8 points during the regular season and an even scarier 100.6 points over the last three contests.
Sophomore guard Celeste Taylor said she and her teammates heard the prognosticators who talked of Maryland sticking a C-note in Texas’ grill, and yes, the Horns took it as a sign of disrespect.
“From the beginning, since when we got in this tournament, people continue to not say our names,” said Taylor, whose jumper tied it at 59-59 with a minute left. “People continue to not bring us up in conversation. I think just from the beginning, we know what we have on this team. We know when we’re locked down and focused, what we can do.”
Schaefer, in his first year, has always believed in the concept of defense first and he brought his hard hat with him from Mississippi State, where in-your-face pressure played a key role on his two national championship game squads.
Schaefer doesn’t always entertain the opinions of those outside his program, but he said after the game that this players had taken those blowout predictions as fuel.
“Everyone has opinions just like everyone has belly buttons,” Schaefer said. “it doesn’t matter what they say. They don’t play.”
He also had a message for the naysayers.
“All the experts had them hanging 100 on us,” he said. “And that's fine. It’s no big deal, but again, you go to saying things like that and you better make sure you know who you're talking about. You have no idea what’s inside the breastplate of my kids.”
After the Maryland takedown, the Horns have taken on the look of a giant killer, which is a tremendous rise in stature for a team that had its own growing pains during the regular season, including losses of 34 and 25 points to West Virginia and Baylor.
The Texas players taking this tourney by storm are a product of those rough lessons, their steel hardened by a coach who challenges them every chance he gets.
“Who are you?” he asked them in the huddle minutes before tipoff Sunday. “What’s your character? What’s your mentality?”
Well, after they fell behind 13-2 in the opening three minutes, their character was certainly put to the test, but they persevered and forced a team whose last 15 wins had all come by double digits to make meaningful shots at crunch time as opposed to celebratory stat stuffers in a blowout win.
Defense won out. Maryland had its worst offensive game of the season and Texas had plenty to do with its struggles.
“It was an extreme amount of ball pressure on us,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who pointed to Texas’ physical approach as a huge factor in her team’s loss.
As a result, the Horns are in the Elite Eight and the contributions came from Collier and Taylor, stalwarts who combined for 31 points and 22 rebounds. Backup post Lauren Ebo made the defensive play of the year in the final minute with her deflection to teammate Kyra Lambert, who raced for the layup that put Texas up to stay. Enforcer Audrey Warren provided plenty of toughness and a couple of buckets before she exited after banging her head on the court.
And junior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor was there quietly providing the gluey leadership. She doesn’t always get the full credit for what she does, but her scoring in the first half kept the Horns within striking distance. Her 14 points were vital, but the five assists and zero turnovers are a much greater illustration of her value to this offense.
Staley led the Gamecocks to a national championship in 2017. The 67-55 win in the title game came against Schaefer’s Mississippi State team. At this point of their professional rivalry, Staley and Schaefer are beyond familiar with the the other’s approach to the game.
There will be few surprises in this latest installment.
And if the Horns win and advance to their first Final Four since 2003, it won’t be a shock because they're a player now.
Just ask Maryland.