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'We got a lot to play for': NCAA seeding a topic as Texas hits regular season's home stretch

Texas senior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor said the mix of new players this season has led to some inconsistency on the court, but as the NCAA Tournament nears, the Longhorns may face only one more ranked team before the postseason. "As we continue to grow, I think we'll be more consistent," she said.

Recently, Texas basketball coach Vic Schaefer found an article that aimed to separate "contenders" from "pretenders" as the NCAA Tournament approaches.

Texas was labeled as a pretender. Schaefer viewed that characterization as a slight and ahead of last Saturday's game against rival Oklahoma, he hoped his players would as well. "If you don't want to be a pretender," he said, "then you've got to go out and earn some respect."

The Longhorns went on to beat No. 12 Oklahoma 78-63. 

In the postgame press conference, senior center Lauren Ebo was asked if she had a message to anyone else who viewed the Longhorns as pretenders. Like many media-savvy athletes, she did not.

"They can think whatever they want to think about us," Ebo said. 

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Ebo said she didn't want to get "caught up with what the media's saying." She'd prefer to just focus on her own team, which is 17-6 and stationed in fifth place in the Big 12 standings with a 7-5 mark in conference play.

If the NCAA Tournament were to have begun last week, Texas would have been able to host the first two rounds. That would be key, Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer said. Now he wants his players to understand that, too. "It's uncharted waters for everyone," he said. "I do want them to know, 'Look, y'all, we got a lot to play for.' There is a distinct advantage if we get to (host)."

At some point, though, outside perceptions of this team will matter. And with the start of the NCAAs just a few weeks away, that point may be now.

Texas is currently No. 14 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. As of Tuesday, only seven teams had a better NET ranking than Texas. Last week, the NCAA projected that the Longhorns would be the 15th overall seed if the postseason began last Thursday.

Schaefer is paying attention to those last two rankings. He has occasionally even mentioned them to his players. Why? Because earning a top-16 overall seed would grant Texas the right to host games during the first two rounds

"If we were an established program and we've been around and we've gone back-to-back-to-back top-four seeds, top-two seeds over three or four years, I wouldn't even mention it because those kids would know," Schaefer said. "I don't think these kids know. It's uncharted waters for everyone.

"I do want them to know, 'Look, y'all, we got a lot to play for.' There is a distinct advantage if we get to (host)."

More:As Big 12 bolsters its reputation, Texas looks for a conference win

Texas has six games left on its schedule. Up next is No. 6 Iowa State. The Cyclones may end up being the last ranked opponent that UT sees in the regular season, although trips to West Virginia, Kansas State and Kansas will all likely be considered "Quadrant 1" games by the NCAA.

With a 10-2 record against Big 12 teams, Iowa State (21-3) is the conference's lone leader. The Cyclones are scoring 78.8 points per game.

Iowa State has been an effective 3-point shooting team. Last weekend against TCU, the Cyclones tied a school record by knocking down 19 3-pointers.

"Fifty-seven points, if my math is correct," Schaefer said.

More:No. 14 Texas to try to spoil No. 6 Iowa State's bid for history, a first-place stranglehold

Schaefer's math was indeed correct. Those 19 3-pointers gave Iowa State 255 threes for the season. Only Florida Gulf Coast (289) and New Mexico (266) have hit more.

Last month, Texas played an Iowa State team that was missing starters Ashley and Aubrey Joens. (Like the Joens sisters, Ebo was unavailable because of the Big 12's healthy and safety protocols). In the 66-48 win, Texas limited Iowa State to a 5-for-16 performance from behind the 3-point line.

Texas held Oklahoma to six 3-pointers. Oklahoma is No. 10 nationally in that statistical category. Taylor Robertson, who is the Big 12's all-time leader in 3-pointers, only made two deep shots.

Against the Sooners, Texas also was boosted by a third-quarter performance in which it outscored OU by 21 points. In the third, Texas forced nine turnovers and shot 53.3% from the field.

That third-quarter outburst was an outlier for the Longhorns that evening. Texas committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter and was outscored in the first and fourth frames. Both teams scored 20 points in the second session.

With the Oklahoma game in mind, UT senior Joanne Allen-Taylor was asked Tuesday about her team remaining consistent on the court. She replied that "it's difficult, especially with a young team." 

"That's why you kind of see us up and down offensively, it's hard to just be hitting on all cylinders all the time like that," Allen-Taylor said. "It's a focus piece and then it's just a maturity piece. ... As we continue to grow, I think we'll be more consistent."