Women’s basketball to face No. 9 UCLA in NCAA second round

23 Mar By
A semifinalist for the Naismith Award, which is given annually to the nation's top men's and women's college basketball players, UCLA guard Michaela Onyenwere leads the Bruins with averages of 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game (photo courtesy of uclabruins.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas women's basketball team has accomplished plenty in head coach Vic Schaefer's first season in Austin, but has yet to check one box: the Longhorns have yet to defeat a team ranked among the top 15 in the Associated Press poll.

The Horns had four chances to do so up to this point, falling to Baylor three times and Texas A&M once. They will have another chance to check the box Wednesday night in the Alamodome in San Antonio, facing No. 9/9 and No. 3 seed UCLA at 8 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

"I'm proud of my team and excited for them," Schaefer said Tuesday. "Just to have the opportunity to play tomorrow night against a really good UCLA team, we're certainly pleased that we were able to get a win (over Bradley) last night."

Texas earned a 81-62 victory over Missouri Valley Conference Champion Bradley Monday in San Marcos to advance to the second round, and will need to play at the same level, if not higher, against the Bruins, who enter Wednesday's game with a 17-5 record. UCLA went 12-4 in the regular season against Pac-12 teams, finished third in the Pac-12 standings and made it to the final of the Pac-12 Tournament before falling, 75-55, to Stanford in the title game.

UCLA's success has been driven by senior forward Michaela Onyenwere, a Naismith Award semifinalist who is averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. She scored a team-high 25 minutes against No. 14 seed Wyoming in the Bruins' first-round NCAA game Monday night.

"I got to coach her on the Pan-American team two years ago when we went to Peru," Schaefer said of Onyenwere. "She's a great kid — a kid who works really hard, and is obviously really skilled. She's a tough matchup, guarding her and dealing with her. She's got tremendous teammates, and they have size at every position. They're going to challenge us with that size."

Guard Natalie Chou is a prime example of the size of which Schaefer spoke. The 6-foot-1-inch Chou, who transferred to UCLA from Baylor, averages 10.2 points per game, and is a challenge to defend on the wing.

Though UCLA has a high level of talent, Schaefer said he is confident in what his squad brings to San Antonio, and was impressed by the Horns' first-round performance in which they led by 20 at multiple points during the game and outscored Bradley in each of the four quarters.

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"Our kids have really come a long way," Schaefer said, "and I'm pleased with it.

"Some people might look at it [as the Bruins being favored], but I'm in it to win it. It's the only way I know how to think. As I've told the kids, this is why we do what we do in August and September out on the track at 6 a.m. This is why we practice so hard, and I am so demanding, my staff is so demanding, on and off the court: because when you get to this opportunity, you don't want to miss an opportunity."

One aspect of Wednesday's contest that has the potential to challenge both teams is the quick turnaround between games. In UT's case, there was a full week to prepare for the contest against Bradley, but there will be a window of just 47 hours between the time the Longhorns left the court in San Marcos until they tip-off against UCLA.

Though this is never any easy aspect of any tournament, neither Schaefer nor freshman point guard Ashley Chevalier expressed much concern when asked about it Tuesday.

"It's definitely different for us, considering that we get into each scout very deep," said Chevalier, who scored 10 points in 22 minutes against Bradley. "A lot more is put on us, as players, to get into our scouts to look at plays that we weren't able to go over in practice and things like that. In terms of the preparation, it's not much different. Coach (Schaefer) was saying today that it's about fundamentals at this point."

"We've obviously paid a lot of attention to what we're going to need to do with UCLA," Schaefer said. "We'll get 40 minutes in the arena tomorrow, so we won't spend a lot of time on UCLA as much as shooting and getting used to the arena. That's a big spacious arena and depth perception is always going to be different in there. We're going to make sure we get good and comfortable in there shooting the ball."

As the Longhorns prepare to play in the largest venue in which it has played all season, Schaefer said he thinks the his team will be ready.

"For me, I have enough confidence in my own team," Schaefer said. "I think if we play well, we can play with anyone in the country."

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley