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Texas women open the Vic Schaefer era with 90-51 romp past SMU

Mark Rosner / American-Statesman Correspondent

Talk about self-scouting. On the eve of the Longhorns’ season opener, Celeste Taylor expounded on how well suited she is for new coach Vic Schaefer’s aggressive, in-your-face approach to basketball.

SMU's Jahnaria Brown #12 tries to complete a pass over UT's Audrey Warren #31 in women's basketball in Austin on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. [LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

On Wednesday, Taylor assembled a display of her talent. The sophomore guard produced 24 points, a career-best eight steals and two blocks in 27 minutes as the Longhorns defeated SMU 90-51 at the Erwin Center.

UT’s COVID-19 precautions restrict attendance to 1,300. The crowd on Wednesday was much smaller, but it witnessed a strong all-around performance by Taylor and a terrific second half from Charli Collier, the junior center. Collier scored 23 of her 25 points in the last two periods after picking up two fouls four minutes into the game and taking a seat on the bench for the rest of the half. She finished with 12 rebounds and just those two fouls in 19 minutes.

Taylor scored 17 in the first half, asserting herself with Collier on the bench. Taylor said she did not compensate for Collier’s absence.

“My teammates found open shots for me,” Taylor said. “And we were told to attack the basket. So that’s what I did.”

Collier, foul prone in the past, was disappointed in the recurrence.

“It reminded me I can’t afford to do that to my team, because they need me on the floor,” she said. “I have to be smart, be more careful.”

Texas, using Schaefer’s trademark hounding defense, induced 35 turnovers by an SMU team picked to finish 10thin the 11-team American Athletic Conference by the league’s coaches. That oppression, full and half-court, enabled Taylor to make the eight steals.

“Our defensive style is pressuring the ball, getting in the passing lanes and helping our teammates out,” Taylor said. “So that’s what I did. I stayed in the passing lanes. Whenever I saw the ball up in the air, I got to a spot and found the ball.”

Impressive supplemental help for Taylor and Collier came from junior Audrey Warren (12 points, 7 rebounds) and 6-2 freshman Deyona Gaston (10 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks). Gaston, originally earmarked to play for Schaefer at Mississippi State, was fit enough to play 27 minutes despite missing practice time with an injury.

“I’m shocked,” Schaefer said. “She didn’t get to practice the first two weeks. She didn’t get to finish conditioning.”

The Longhorns committed 16 turnovers, too many for a group that has been instructed to value possessions, but five came in the fourth quarter after Schaefer subbed in young reserves.

Texas had an advantage in several categories that are an indication of hustle and aggression. The Longhorns turned the 35 SMU turnovers into 39 points. They converted 21 offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points. They hit 25 of 36 free throws, 23 more attempts than SMU.

Longhorns converted just 3- of-10 3-pointers, unimpressive production that might not change. They ranked 255th last season in 3-point baskets and 233rd in accuracy. That’s the kind of shooting that provides opponents with the option of using sagging zone defenses to surround Collier and Taylor in the lane, as SMU tried for part of the game. Schaefer said it would not deter the Longhorns.

“I think what we showed tonight is you can zone us and we’re gonna try to impose our will offensively on what we want to do,” Schaefer said. “We’re not going to settle.”