Texas’ Vic Schaefer must get through South Carolina – again
In a career of major milestones and championship achievements, Texas coach Vic Schaefer just can’t seem to get past South Carolina when it counts the most.
The veteran coach in his first year with the Longhorns gets another chance Tuesday night as his sixth-seeded team plays the No. 1 seed Gamecocks (25-4) in the Hemisfair Region for a berth in the Final Four.
Schaefer built a powerhouse over eight seasons at Mississippi State with two Final Four appearances, two regular-season Southeastern Conference crowns and a league tournament title. Yet, he’s come up short in several big moments against South Carolina and coach Dawn Staley.
Schaefer’s Bulldogs were 0-4 in SEC Tournament title games to the Gamecocks. And following perhaps his team’s biggest accomplishment — ending UConn’s 111-game win streak at the national semifinals in 2017 — it was Staley who cut down the nets two nights later after taking the women’s NCAA Tournament crown over Mississippi State.
“We’ve had some knock-down, drag-outs over the years,” Schaefer said.
Texas (21-9) already has had a season’s worth of surprises in the tournament, toppling third-seed UCLA in the second round and holding offensive juggernaut Maryland, the second-seed and a popular pick to advance out of the region, to its lowest point total of the year in a 64-61 victory Sunday night.
Now, the next challenge is knocking off Staley’s team, which ousted Georgia Tech 76-65 on Sunday.
“The good news is I don’t have to play her one-on-one because I’m sure I wouldn’t do very well,” he said Monday.
Schaefer is 3-12 all time against Staley and the Gamecocks.
“There is some familiarity there over the years,” he said. “We had some very big games and some very big moments. They’ve had some success. We’ve had some success.”
Staley believes the history between the coaches will play a role as the Gamecocks attempt to reach their third Final Four since 2015.
“I knew he’d be ready against Maryland. I knew he’d come up with a game plan that gives them a chance to win,” she said. “I’ve been on the other side of that a lot of times.”
Staley, in her 13th season at South Carolina, has great respect for Schaefer and always looks forward to the matchups because of the smart, detailed approach he brings to the games.
Tuesday night “will be no different,” she said.
BIG ON BIG
The feature matchup between South Carolina and Texas is clearly down low with a pair of 6-foot-5 future WNBA standouts in the Gamecocks’ Aliyah Boston and the Longhorns’ Charli Collier.
Both are averaging double-doubles for the tournament with Boston having an edge with 48 points in three games to Collier’s 44. Collier has 31 total rebounds, one more than Boston.
They are skilled players who know how to handle playing against two or three defenders.
“Those are two of the premiere players in the country, regardless of the position,” Schaefer said. “I’m glad I’ve got Charli on my team and we’ll give her some good advice on trying to deal with Aliyah because she’s obviously very special.”
Collier, a junior, has said she plans to graduate this spring and enter the WNBA draft where’s she’s expected to go No. 1 overall.
Boston, a sophomore, has at least one more season left before her likely selection as the first overall pick in the WNBA.
Staley said without a doubt playing in The Lone Star State is a boost for Texas.
The Longhorns had a strong crowd at the arena Sunday night in defeating Maryland 64-61 and Staley expects a similarly loud group at the Elite Eight game.
“Does it create an advantage? I would say so,” Staley said. “It’s a bus ride away for them and they’ll probably have a lot more people in the building cheering for them. For us, we’re going to get on social media to see how many Gamecocks in Texas we can reach to get to the game.”
The edge is probably similar to one Staley’s team had when the SEC Tournament was played in Greenville, South Carolina, about two hours from the Gamecocks campus, in 2017 and from 2019-21.
Kyra Lambert couldn’t be happier with how her season has turned out.
Lambert, 24, played five seasons at Duke (she missed two years due to ACL injuries) before transferring to her home state school in Texas. The move gave new coach Schaefer a reliable leader at point guard and Lambert the chance to play close to her home of Cibolo, Texas.
COVID-19 restrictions on attendance kept crowds away from Texas games much of the year. Now, Lambert is excelling before area fans in the NCAA’s in San Antonio, about 25 miles from where she grew up.
Lambert has had six games with double-figure scoring this season, including the past two NCAA wins with 17 against UCLA and 10 against Maryland. Her late breakaway basket broke a 59-all tie and put the Longhorns ahead for good.
“Honestly, this isn’t a story I could write,” Lambert said with a smile. “I couldn’t imagine” this outcome.