Foul trouble, missed free throws, and a lack of late boards prevented Vic Schaefer’s women’s hoops program from advancing to the Final Four on Sunday night as a valiant effort by the No. 2-seed Texas Longhorns fell just short against an electric No. 1-seed Stanford Cardinal team in an 59-50 loss in Spokane.
Schaefer called upon a fast lineup with an innate ability to create mismatches in the paint to face the defending national champions and Texas won the turnover battle in the first quarter with five forced turnovers. However, the Longhorns failed to convert many of those leaving plenty of room for improvement while going 5-of-15 from the floor. The Longhorn defense limited Cardinal productivity beyond the arc to zero, further forcing Stanford into physical, one-on-one matchups under the basket. Texas appeared poised to take a two-point lead into the second quarter until Stanford’s Haley Jones employed a timely jumper at the buzzer to tie the game at 14 each.
The Texas offense began the second quarter with a familiar look: the dribble-drive weave led to a successful Rori Harmon jumper to take the lead, 16-14. The Longhorn defense continued to rattle the Cardinal and sent forward Cameron Brink to the sideline after her second personal foul came on an errant motion just minutes into the second quarter. Stanford found its offensive stride on the give-and-go exchange interchange between both Hull sisters and Cardinal forward Fran Belibi. Stanford continued to build momentum after Lexie Hull converted block by fellow Spokane native Lacie Hull to give Stanford a 22-21 lead.
Foul trouble highlighted the opening of the second half as Texas accumulated a disastrous four team fouls in the first two minutes of the third quarter (that’s one foul for each 30 seconds of play — yikes). Rori Harmon absolved my rampant heartburn (if only for a moment) as she went under the Stanford defense on back-to-back drives to collect four points in two shot attempts. The physicality of the contest only increased throughout the third quarter as Texas freshman Aaliyah Moore received her fourth personal foul with a mere 0.4 seconds before the end of three.
One must assume Brink entrusted a more lethargic bus with her transportation to Spokane Arena. To the dismay of the Longhorns, the sophomore Cardinal standout arrived during the third quarter as her godmother, Sonya Curry, mother of NBA stars Seth and Steph Curry, looked on. Brink walloped the Texas defense with 10 points throughout the third, continuing her dominance into the fourth quarter as she stuffed Texas shooters with a ridiculous six blocks in seven minutes.
Schaefer and VanDerveer faced off in a divine chess match midway through the fourth quarter as the frontline of Texas combined for 11 personal fouls to demand frequent personnel swaps. Harmon continued to shine a light on the future of Texas hoops as she single-handedly broke the Cardinal’s press in the fourth. With three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Lauren Ebo stepped up for Texas and converted two critical free throws for the Horns to cut Stanford’s favorable margin to two. Lexie Hull answered back with a tough and-one to place a third foul on Texas senior, Joanne Allen-Taylor. Aaliyah Moore drained a jumper on an assist from Harmon, only for Joanne Allen-Taylor to send Stanford into the bonus with her fourth personal foul.
Stanford trudged into the final minute of the contest with a 56-50 lead over Texas before Joanne Allen-Taylor fouled out. The beloved senior, who has embodied ‘Texas Fight’ throughout her career, received endless love from her bench as tears fell from Allen-Taylor’s eyes. Despite heroic efforts from the Longhorns’ one-woman show, Rori Harmon and a tireless effort from a young Texas team, the Longhorns fell to Stanford 59-50.
While foul trouble may be the reflexive storyline of this game, Texas’s inability to rebound late and their failure to convert free throws under pressure hammered the final nails into their self-imposed coffin. The Cardinal outscored the Longhorns at the line 18-to-11. Stanford posted 45 rebounds to Texas’s 28 on the night.
Boundless bright spots exist for Schaefer’s young squad as true freshmen Rori Harmon and Aaliyah Moore displayed the poise and prowess of seasoned veterans throughout the tournament. Sophomore forward Deyona Gaston evolved as a sharpshooter for and demonstrated true grit as she grew throughout the season in rebounding and blocks for Texas. While the Longhorns lose only three seniors this offseason, the graduating class includes Audrey Warren, Allen-Taylor, and Ebo, who proved vital to the Horns as incomparable contributors in leadership, athleticism, and Texas fight.
As a fan first, I am already counting down the days until opening tip-off of the 2022-23 Texas women’s basketball season. Longhorn faithful, use the coming months to select a comfortable pair of sunglasses. I have a feeling you’ll need them with a future this bright for Texas women’s hoops.