Vic Schaefer’s team is ahead of schedule.
In his first year with the Texas Longhorns, the former Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach and his gritty team pulled off a remarkable run to the Elite Eight as a sixth seed that ended on Tuesday in a 62-34 loss to the No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks in San Antonio.
Playing with a limited rotation of six players following a physical game against Maryland on Sunday, Texas appeared to run out of gas — in barely more than two minutes to open the game, South Carolina jumped out to a 10-2 lead and never looked back, stretching the margin to 18-7 after the first quarter.
The second quarter and the third quarter were mostly more competitive, as the Horns stayed within seven points during those 20 minutes, but the wheels completely fell off in the fourth quarter with Texas going scoreless for the final 12:28 and missing the team’s last 20 shot attempts.
The final numbers were ugly — other than three threes from guard Audrey Warren, the team went 0-for-11 shooting from three-point range in making only 23 percent overall from the field. Texas had more turnovers (15) than made baskets (14). South Carolina’s defense forced a lot of those struggles, especially in blocking 14 shots, including nine by forward Laeticia Amihere.
Warren was the only Longhorns player in double figures with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including the 3-for-4 marksmanship from beyond the arc. All of her other teammates struggled, with star forward Charli Collier making only two of her 10 shots attempts and guard Celeste Taylor consistently failing to finish near the rim in going 3-for-18 shooting.
But the poor performance against South Carolina doesn’t take away from the toughness and resolve that the team showed in its unexpected run to the Sweet 16 — Schaefer’s group showed signs of what it can become with more experience in his system and more depth to avoid the mental and physical toll that the three wins took on the six players in the rotation.
That help is already on the way thanks to a 2021 recruiting class that includes three top-25 players nationally in forward Aaliyah Moore, the No. 6 player nationally, point guard Rori Harmon, the No. 10 player nationally, and point guard Kyndall Hunter, the No. 24 player nationally.
So the future looks bright for Schaefer’s Longhorns thanks to that pending talent infusion and the results of the impressive NCAA Tournament run.