'Hats off to them': The University of San Diego salvages No. 11 Texas' trip to Las Vegas
During a trip to Las Vegas this weekend, the Texas Longhorns planned on seeing a magic show.
Texas coach Vic Schaefer also worked some magic while the Longhorns were in Las Vegas. After the team that Texas was supposed to play disappeared, a late-night scheduling scramble salvaged the Longhorns’ weekend. And on Sunday, No. 11 Texas improved its record to 8-1 with a 74-58 win over the University of San Diego.
Texas was set to play No. 4 Arizona on Sunday as part of the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge. On Saturday evening, that marquee matchup was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing within Arizona’s program.
Event organizers said they’d help Texas try to find a replacement. If it was unable to find someone to play them in Las Vegas on such a short turnaround, Texas also considered finding an early-week contest on the East Coast since it will be playing at Princeton this upcoming Wednesday.
Throughout this season, Schaefer has expressed his frustration about the difficulty of getting quality teams on board with playing Texas. So what happened after the Arizona cancellation probably wasn't a surprise.
Texas attempted to coax teams — including a couple schools that had played in the area on Saturday and No. 24 Ohio State, which plays at San Diego State on Tuesday and had just had its Sunday contest at UCLA nixed because of the Bruins' COVID-19 protocols — into replacing Arizona. The Longhorns were repeatedly turned down. At one point, Schaefer tweeted out a plea that asked any team looking for a game to contact him.
Texas assistant coach April Phillips eventually connected with a friend at USD. The Toreros seemed intrigued with the idea of playing in the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge, which led to a deeper conversation with Schaefer. By 10:30 p.m., Texas had a new opponent.
"Just thought it was just a really classy thing they did and a tremendous thing they did," Schaefer told the American-Statesman. "Hats off to them and their team. I thought they were a lot better than Texas today."
After the Longhorns and Toreros agreed to play, Schaefer and his coaches got to work. Texas secured film for four of USD's games, and Schaefer said his coaching staff was "up all night." Texas players took a peak at that film after their Sunday shoot-around.
In the 16-point win, Texas was led by junior guard Aliyah Matharu's 22 points and seven steals. DeYona Gaston had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and seniors Joanne Allen-Taylor and Audrey Warren both contributed a 10-point scoring effort.
But a Toreros team that had just played Arizona State in San Diego on Saturday failed to go away. San Diego (7-4) cut UT's lead down to nine points with less than three minutes to play. Texas committed 19 turnovers and freshman point guard Rori Harmon fouled out.
"My kids were extremely disappointed when they found out we weren't playing Arizona. They couldn't believe it," Schaefer said. "It wouldn't have mattered who we played, that's no excuse. You only get 29 games, you should be jacked up, fired up, appreciate the opportunity, all of that.
"But let's be honest, human nature. My kids were ready for number four. They wanted that opportunity and when they didn't get it, I don't think it would have mattered who we played today, it was a little bit of air out of the bubble and it shouldn't have been."
Schaefer said the Toreros boarded a plane on Sunday morning in order to make it to a game that tipped at 2:30 p.m. Schaefer didn't know what deal the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge organizers made with San Diego. He did tell USD coach Cindy Fisher that he'd return the favor to her in the future.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, USD athletic director Bill McGillis explained why the Toreros agreed to play Texas on such short notice. He argued that the cancellation of a game that was to be televised on ESPN would be bad for women's basketball. McGillis added that the Toreros are competitors. He then said that both UT and a USD program that had its 2020-21 season cut short by the pandemic deserved to play in such an event.
"We're committed to providing our super seniors experiences of a lifetime," McGillis tweeted. "This game does that."
This marks the second straight year in which the pandemic has forced Texas to add an unexpected team to its schedule. Last season, the Longhorns had a week in which a Sunday showdown with Tennessee was canceled and a Thursday tussle with Kansas was postponed. Drake eventually agreed to play Texas in Austin that Friday.
In that instance, Schaefer relied on a coaching message board to find a willing opponent. A contract between Texas and Drake was then signed just three days before the Longhorns recorded a 101-80 win at the Erwin Center.