AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the Texas Longhorns women’s basketball team tips off its March Madness run Saturday, they’ll be starting typically when they’re done playing late games.
The fourth-seeded Longhorns take on No. 13 seed East Carolina in the opening round at Moody Center, and due to the broadcast schedule set by ESPN, the game won’t begin until 9 p.m. That’s two hours later than a typical late game, and Longhorns head coach Vic Schaefer isn’t a fan of that.
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“I’m disappointed,” he said with a chuckle after he was asked about the late tip. “I don’t know how that helps grow our game. We have a lot of fans with young families and a lot of older fans — we’ll have to have naps for kids and naps for the older folks to make the tip.”
Schafer continued with the point that both the Longhorns and Pirates will be walking out of Moody past midnight, and while there’s an off day before the second-round game, routines are disrupted and it throws off practice schedules.
However, Schaefer said the team will adapt the best it can since it can’t control when the opening tip is.
“It creates an issue,” Schaefer said. “But they didn’t ask me and we’ll roll with whatever they give us. We’re in the tournament and we get to host, and we’d show up if they put it at 3 a.m., but for the opportunity to have a great crowd, it’s really challenging.”
Texas is coming off a 61-51 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference tournament championship game Sunday, and a day after the loss, Schafer said the team “didn’t have a funeral.”
“It’s hard in the moment like that, but now we’re in the greatest event in college athletics,” Schaefer said, “and that’s the NCAA tournament.”
East Carolina, champions of the American Athletic Conference tournament and the only team not seeded No. 1 to ever win it, is one of the hottest teams in the country. The Pirates are 9-1 in their last 10 games and beat Houston in a 46-44 grinder to capture the AAC’s automatic tournament bid.
It’s the third time the Pirates have made the tournament field and the first time since 2007. In 2007, they were also the No. 13 seed in their region and they lost in the opening round to Rutgers, the eventual NCAA runner-up.
The Pirates compiled a 23-9 overall record this season behind a stout defense that forces more than 20 turnovers a game. The Pirates are No. 3 in NCAA Division I averaging 24.16 turnovers forced per game and 13.2 steals per game. East Carolina’s turnover margin — the difference between turnovers forced and turnovers committed — is No. 4 in the country at 7.34, and the team is No. 22 in scoring defense allowing 56 points per game.
“They’re obviously well-coached and have great players, and they’re playing at a high level,” Schaefer said. “They’re really talented, no question about it.”
Texas counters with the No. 46 scoring offense in the country averaging 73.3 points per game and the No. 36 field goal shooting team at 44.63%. The Longhorns average 15.7 assists per game, and that’s No. 36 in the country, so it’s a classic strength versus strength first-round game between the Longhorns and the Pirates.
As far as injuries go, Schaefer said senior guard Sonya Morris, “has made a significant improvement,” from a quadricep contusion that has kept her out since mid-February. He’s still not sure if she’ll be ready to go at 100%, but he was encouraged by her progress. Morris was the team’s leading scorer at 12.1 points per game when she suffered the injury. She’s played 24 games this season.
Along with East Carolina, No. 5 Louisville will take on No. 12 Drake in the other first-round game at Moody Center. Since Texas was named a top-16 overall seed, they were awarded with a host site for the first two rounds. The team that comes out of Austin will advance to Seattle where the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games will be held. Schaefer said he’s not satisfied by just getting to the tournament.
“We’re here to try to win it,” Schaefer said. “That’s why they hired us. It was my thought process at Mississippi State, too. I find it interesting the value that’s placed on whether you’ve had a successful year or not if you make it to the tournament, does it end just there? For us, it’s more than just making the tournament.”