'A story that I couldn't write': Texas basketball's Kyra Lambert finally finding her shining moments
Over the years, Kyra Lambert has experienced more heartbreak than happiness in the postseason.
Back in 2015, the last shot of her high school career was a half-court heave that rimmed out in Schertz Clemens' 48-46 loss to San Antonio O'Connor in the third round of the Class 6A state playoffs. Two years later, as the point guard at Duke, her season ended just 10 minutes into a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Hampton in 2017. It would end up being her only NCAA appearance with the Blue Devils.
But Lambert, now a graduate transfer at Texas, is thriving in this year's NCAA Tournament. She has helped the sixth-seeded Longhorns all the way to the Elite Eight, busting a few brackets along the way.
Texas (21-9) faces No.1-seeded South Carolina on Tuesday. It's the Longhorns' first Elite Eight since 2016 and a win would take them to their first Final Four since 2003.
"These are the things that you remember for the rest of your life," Lambert said Monday. "Just enjoying it and enjoying it being with (my teammates)."
Lambert has provided a senior-less Texas roster with a point guard and veteran presence. During the regular season, the steady Lambert averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 assists. Her assists-to-turnover ratio ranked 39th nationally. She was an honorable mention selection on the all-conference team.
But this postseason, she is enjoying her One Shining Moment and then some.
On March 12, she scored 23 points and knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers as Texas beat Iowa State in its opener at the Big 12 Tournament. Against third-seeded UCLA in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament, the 5-foot-9 Lambert produced a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double performance. She then put up 10 points on Sunday night and made a critical play late in Texas' upset of Maryland in the Sweet 16.
With the game tied 59-59 in the final minute, Lambert corralled a loose ball that had been deflected by teammate Lauren Ebo. Lambert raced down the court for a layup that put the Longhorns up 61-59. Texas went on to win 64-61.
"I had the easiest job: make a layup," she said. "Lauren, that possession, that play, was to me the play of the game."
Lambert has played at least 31 minutes in each of UT's five postseason games. She played all 45 in the Big 12 battle against Iowa State that went into overtime. She never left the court in the 71-62 win over UCLA. Had she not briefly needed medical attention on Sunday, she would have added to the 37 minutes she eventually turned in.
"I've seen her change and grow into a point guard that can lead my team and do it the way that I want it done," Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. "For me as a coach, that's very, very gratifying."
Lambert and the Longhorns have shifted their attention to South Carolina (24-5), the top seed in the Hemisfair region.
In her media availability on Monday, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley applauded Texas for a balanced offensive attack against Maryland. As a former conference rival of Schaefer, who coached Mississippi State from 2012-20, Staley also hasn't forgotten about how his teams play defense.
"The unselfishness that they played with, it's head-scratching," Staley said. "It does have you scratching your head to see what do you want to take away, what are you going to allow. Then you come back and play with a stingy defense, defensive team like Texas."
Lambert has already said that she won't accept the free year of eligibility that the NCAA is offering because of the pandemic. Six years of college basketball has been enough. She wants to coach, and teammate Charli Collier has predicted that "she's going to be a collegiate coach for a women's basketball team for sure. She has the right mindset, (her) IQ is out of this world."
So consider this the final chapter of the story of Lambert's playing career.
That story includes McDonald's All-American honors and a top-10 recruiting ranking in high school. But also a 962-day stretch between games at Duke as she recovered from two separate knee injuries. And now it includes an NCAA run with Texas at the Alamodome, which is only a few miles away from her hometown of Cibolo.
"Honestly, this is a story that I couldn't write, that I couldn't imagine," Lambert said. "This is tangible evidence of how good God is. That's it."