South Carolina 62, Texas 34: Thumped in the Elite Eight, Longhorns look ahead to future
After Tuesday night's 62-34 loss to South Carolina ended Texas' season, Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer wanted to circle a few dates on the calendar.
March 30, 2022? Circle it.
March 30, 2023? Circle it.
March 30, 2024? Circle it, and circle March 30 in 2025, 2026 and 2027 as well.
"If I'm doing my job, we're playing on March 30th every year," Schaefer said. "If they're doing their job, the student-athletes, we're practicing and playing every March 30th. That's what we do at Texas.
"We're playing in the NCAA Tournament, we're playing deep into the tournament and hopefully, in years to come, we're playing for national championships."
As for March 30, 2021, the 28-point loss to the top-seeded Gamecocks in the Elite Eight was Texas' worst in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. The Longhorns were trying to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2003. Instead, Schaefer's first season ended at 21-10 and in the fourth round of the NCAAs.
The Gamecocks (26-4) set the tone early. Texas had held a 500-436 point advantage over teams in the first quarter this season, but South Carolina led 18-7 on Tuesday. Leading the way was 6-foot-2 forward Victaria Saxton; guarded primarily by 5-9 Audrey Warren, she knocked down all four shots she took in the opening two minutes, sparking an 8-2 lead.
The Gamecocks continued to attack the paint — had South Carolina only counted its points from the paint, it still would have led 24-22 at halftime. But the Gamecocks knocked down a few other shots, too, and led by 15.
"After the first quarter, we were just trying to regroup, get it together on the defensive end," UT point guard Kyra Lambert said. "Credit to South Carolina. They played a great ball game, they guarded us like we like to guard. It just wasn't our night."
Texas cut South Carolina's lead to 10 points in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Longhorns wouldn't get any closer after Lauren Ebo's basket made it a 41-31 game with 4:37 left in the third quarter. South Carolina pushed its lead back to 52-34 by the end of the period.
And that was it. The Longhorns were shut out in the fourth quarter. They missed their final 20 shots.
"It wasn't just that. It wasn't the last 13 (minutes)," Schaefer said. "They came out and punched us. We responded a little bit."
South Carolina guard Zia Cooke led all scorers with 16 points. The Gamecocks received double-digit scoring contributions from four other players.
Warren led Texas with 13 points. The Longhorns shot a season-low 23% from the field. Charli Collier, who's headed to the WNBA draft, scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in the final game of her All-America season.
"I think defense is what win games," Cooke said. "Of course you have to have the offensive part, but if you're not a well put-together defensive team, it's going to be tough. Texas was definitely a good defensive team as well, but we just came out with the victory."
In his postgame press conference, Schaefer expressed optimism about the program he took over last April. "We've got some things that we've got to get fixed," he conceded.
Collier, a junior, has already declared for the draft. Lambert, who was a graduate transfer from Duke, has said she won't return for what would be a seventh season of college basketball.
Five Longhorns who are expected back received significant playing time in the postseason, however. Junior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor entered the week as the nation's leader in minutes played, and she worked 38 more minutes on Tuesday.
Due to the NCAA's decision to freeze a year of eligibility because of the pandemic, Texas will essentially get to infuse its roster with two classes of freshmen. Three of this year's freshmen — DeYona Gaston (shin), Elyssa Coleman (knee) and Shay Holle (ankle) — battled injuries. Next year's class features three McDonald's All-Americans and two highly-rated junior college prospects. The transfer portal could always lead to additional attrition and additions, too.
"I'm going to support them as I move on, but they'll remember this feeling, they're going to build off this, be better for it," Lambert said. "Texas is being talked about right now."
Tip-ins: South Carolina advances to play Stanford in the Final Four. The other semifinal will feature UConn and Arizona. ... South Carolina's Destiny Littleton, who played at Texas during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, grabbed two rebounds over the 12 minutes she played. ... Texas' Celeste Taylor closed out her sophomore season with eight points and three steals. She was the only non-Gamecock voted onto the All-Hemisfair Region team.