Two women who are credited with building a culture of great college basketball in the state of Texas are former Texas head coach Jody Conradt, and former Texas Tech head coach Marsha Sharp. Both were on the "Building a Championship Culture" broadcast event held Tuesday by San Antonio Sports. Many of today's players and fans may not know the history those two programs had, but it is in part due to those two coaches that the Big 12 remains one of the most competitive conferences in the country. In the 13 years the two schools were members of the Southwest Conference, either Texas or Texas Tech won the conference title in 11 of those seasons.
"Our fans really wanted to make it a deal," Sharp said. "It was a pretty big rivalry in the '90s. There were a couple of times we played in championship game of the conference tournament and I used to stand at the edge of the court just to watch our fans come in. In that time the Southwest Conference only sold general admission tickets and it was the most amazing sight.
"Everyone would be scrambling down to get the best seats in the arena, and it was burnt orange on one side and red and black on the other, divided right in middle. They filled the place up. It was such an amazing moment for me and for women's basketball. It brought attention to the sport and a passion for it, with neither one of us on our home floors. "
In those days, Conradt said, the landscape of women's college hoops was much different than it is today. Recruiting was kept mostly in-state, as the University Interscholastic League (UIL) had strict regulations for players who ventured outside of the state for AAU games or to attend camps at various college across the country. That meant Texas Tech and Texas were able to nab almost every blue-chip prospect in Texas. For the 2020-21 season, nine of the Horns' 14 players hail from the Lone Star state.
"I think you could stay inside the state of Texas and build a national championship team," Conradt said. "That actually happened for us at UT. It wasn't very hard to recruit [former UT All-America Clarissa Davis] because nobody understood the talent and level of play in the state of Texas."
The Conradt-coached 1986 national championship team was the only Texas team to go undefeated in the program's 46 year-history.
Expectations have grown with the hiring of Schaefer, who helped Mississippi State reach the Final Four in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018. It would mean that much more if it could be accomplished in Schaefer's first year at the helm of Texas program, and give the Horns an opportunity to compete for a national title in their home state.
In addition, Texas will be the host of one of the four regional sites for the 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament, meaning the Longhorns could have the opportunity to win the tournament and never leave the state. Connecticut is the only team ever to win a national title in San Antonio.
One of the marquee regular season contests for the Longhorns in 2020-21 will be against Baylor, the reigning national champions who have beaten UT eight consecutive times. Mulkey said in no uncertain teams Tuesday that when her team takes on Schaefer's squad, fans can expect are hard-fought battle.
"I said, 'Vic, I'm not going to let the media make us hate each other,'" Mulkey said. "I don't live like that. But when we get out on the floor you can bet you're going to think we're the biggest enemies and we're going to compete."