Schaefer, young Longhorns brace for Texas' NCAA postseason run
They say that there's a first time for everything. For many basketball players at Texas, that includes a postseason run.
The women's postseason will begin in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday morning for Texas. The Longhorns (17-8, 11-7 Big 12) are set to meet Iowa State (16-9, 12-6) in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. If victorious, UT will probably battle Baylor on Saturday.
Texas is the fifth seed in the Big 12's bracket. An invitation to the NCAA Tournament has not been secured, but the Longhorns were projected as a seventh seed in the latest guess by ESPN analyst Charlie Creme.
"We're ready; we're focused; we're locked in," UT point guard Kyra Lambert said. "We're ready to just take on the entire Big 12 for the next three days."
In the postseason this year, Texas will test the theory that experience matters. Of the players on UT's roster, only six have ever played in a conference tournament.
When Vic Schaefer took over in April, he inherited a team that had just graduated three starters and a key reserve in Lashann Higgs. Katie Benzan, a graduate transfer from Harvard who ranks fifth nationally in made 3-pointers this season, then decided to close out her college career at Maryland instead of Texas.
That left Texas with 12 players. Five were freshmen.
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Four returnees logged significant minutes last season. Most of the NCAA's postseason in 2020, however, was nixed because of the pandemic. The season was called off just a day before UT's opener at the Big 12 Tournament.
"We all really just want to get back the time that we had lost last year. All those games, all those experiences," junior Audrey Warren said.
Warren, Lambert and Charli Collier are the only Longhorns who have played in the NCAA Tournament. Back in 2019, Warren started and Collier came off the bench as Texas was bounced by Indiana in its first game. Lambert started at Duke during the 2016-17 season. However, she injured her knee in the Blue Devils' first-round game against Hampton.
On Thursday, Lambert was asked to compare the postseason to life in the regular season. At first, she joked that "practices are shorter." There are other noticeable differences, though.
"The energy's different," she said. "Once March hits and you're looking around the league and you're seeing people peaking at the right time, teams are still getting better. The competition is a lot more focused; the games are closer.
"The landscape of college basketball shifts when it gets to this point of the season, which is cool to see."
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Lambert has previously argued against the notion that her team is inexperienced since seven Longhorns appeared in at least 20 games this season. A postseason newcomer such as Celeste Taylor has started 46 times over the past two years. Freshman point guard Ashley Chevalier has carved out a role off UT's bench.
Schaefer might disagree with his point guard on this one. Before he arrived, Schaefer spent eight seasons at Mississippi State. In 2017 and 2018, his Bulldogs reached the NCAA championship game. Center Teaira McCowan, a sophomore in 2017, was the only non-junior or non-senior to start in one of those two title games.
"The experience of being in those games and those moments, I think they certainly all have a value to them," Schaefer said. "Sometimes when you're young, what you don't know won't hurt you. At the same time, I think we are so inexperienced that we're still dealing with that a little bit and the confidence factor."