As NCAAs march on, Texas vies to 'get over the hump' against top-ranked competition
On Wednesday night, Texas fans will find out if the pundits know more about college basketball than a president.
On paper, third-seeded UCLA should be favored when it meets sixth-seeded Texas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins ranked ninth in the Associated Press' most recent poll. The Longhorns, meanwhile, haven't appeared on a single AP ballot since early February.
At least one notable source thinks Texas is a better team than UCLA, though. Former President — and basketball fan — Barack Obama picked the Longhorns over the Bruins in his published bracket for the women's tournament.
Obama may have the most clout of anyone picking Texas in a game that will be played at the Alamodome. For what it's worth, the Longhorns also believe in themselves.
"At the end of the day, I feel like we can compete with anybody in the nation," sophomore guard Celeste Taylor said earlier this month.
UCLA (17-5) is averaging 71.8 points per game while allowing 57.7. That margin is the 18th-largest gap in the nation. The Bruins average 11.9 turnovers per game, the lowest clip in the Pac-12. Texas, on the other hand, leads the Big 12 averaging 19.3 turnovers.
Like Texas with Charli Collier, UCLA has an All-American, too. Michaela Onyenwere, a 6-foot forward, has been a third-team pick by the AP in each of the past two seasons. The senior is scoring 19 points per game. She needs 21 points to become the fourth-leading scorer in UCLA history.
"(Michaela) impresses me every day," teammate Natalie Chou said. "Her athleticism, it's just amazing. I've never met anyone as athletic as her or consistent as her."
Texas (19-9), however, is missing a signature win from its résumé. Against ranked teams, the Longhorns went 1-5 — that victory a 70-59 triumph at Iowa State in January.
How has Texas fared against the best of the best? Back in December, the Longhorns dropped a five-point decision at the Erwin Center to a Texas A&M team that was ranked 12th at the time. The Aggies are now fourth.
Baylor was considered a top-10 team in each of its three games against Texas. A 60-35 loss in Waco embarrassed UT on Valentine's Day. In the subsequent two battles, Baylor had to sweat a little in 68-57 and 66-55 wins.
After Baylor eliminated Texas from the Big 12 Tournament, Joanne Allen-Taylor was asked what she had learned in those losses to top-ranked competition. Without hesitation, the junior guard asserted that the Longhorns "can compete with the best in the country."
As a follow-up, she was asked what Texas needed to then do in order to clear those types of top-ranked hurdles.
"We have to limit the little mistakes," Allen-Taylor said. "Once we figure that out, then we get over the hump."
On Monday night, Texas recorded an 81-62 win over Bradley in the first round. Collier contributed 23 points and 15 rebounds. Audrey Warren, Allen-Taylor and Ashley Chevalier respectively added 19, 12 and 10 points to the mix.
Roughly two hours after Texas wrapped up the victory over Bradley, UCLA closed out its own first-round game against Wyoming. That set up the 14th all-time meeting between the schools. Three years ago, UCLA beat Texas in the third round of the NCAAs.
"Survive and advance, survive and advance," Collier said. "We're taking it one game at a time and we're going to prepare for the next game on Wednesday. ... We've just got to take it one day at a time and just play basketball."