SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Few people gave the Texas women's basketball team a shot against Maryland's explosive offense, and the Longhorns took that personally.
They did more than just prove those doubters wrong Sunday night, knocking off No. 2 seed Maryland, 64-61. The No. 6-seeded Longhorns advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, and will face No. 1 seed South Carolina on Tuesday evening.
"There were people out there saying they were going to hang 100 on us," Texas guard Celeste Taylor said of the Terrapins, who entered the game averaging 91.8 points per game, "and we took that personal. Every last one of us took it personal."
"All the experts had them hanging 100 on us," Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said. "That's fine. It's no big deal. But if you're going to say things like that, you better make sure you know who you're talking about. You have no idea what's inside the breastplate of my kids. Their toughness and resiliency is off the charts."
In a contest that came down to the wire, it took just 15 seconds for the Longhorns to tie, then claim the lead, and never back.
In that momentum-shifting stretch with just over a minute to play in the game, Texas guard Celeste Taylor drained a step-back jumper to tie the score at 59 with exactly 59 seconds on the clock. On Maryland's ensuing possession, a poor pass was deflected by Texas forward Lauren Ebo, and found its way into the hands of San Antonio native Kyra Lambert, who drove down the floor, laying the ball in to give Texas a decisive 61-59 lead with 44 seconds to play.
"It was really big," Taylor said of her late shot. "I know the work that I put in. I know that I've taken shots like that in the gym myself. Lauren has done amazing for us this tournament. Every time that she's come in, she's put her all into it. We talk about our post players playing in the passing lane, and Lauren was in the passing lane today.
"From then, we were like 'We need another stop'. But it was really exciting. It was a big moment for us."
Maryland, which was held to 31 points below its season average, went ice-cold shooting in the final minute. The Terrapins missed six of their final seven shots and repeatedly were forced to send Texas to the free throw line, as the Horns made the free throws when they counted and earned the upset victory.
Though the win was captured in the fourth quarter, UT's third quarter play was the only reason the Longhorns remained in the fight. The teams exchanged buckets for the first several minutes of the period, combining for 39 points in the quarter.
The strong offense continued for Texas, and the stifling defense soon emerged. Texas mounted an 11-2 run beginning at the 6:05 mark on a turnaround jumper from Taylor, and that spurt spanned until there was 1:31 left in the quarter. The highlight of the run came with 4:07 on the clock, when Collier drained two free throws to give Texas a 42-41 lead. It was the Horns' first lead of the ballgame.
The Maryland offense was as advertised right from the opening tip, as the Terrapins got the ball to Katie Benzan, the nation's leading three-point shooter, on their first possession. The one-time Texas commit promptly swished a three to put Maryland in front 3-0. That shot gave way to many more like it for the Terrapins, as they raced out a 9-0 advantage, and forced Schaefer to use a timeout and try to rally his shellshocked troops.
"They've come a long way," Schaefer said. "I'm not sure, a month-and-a-half ago, that we could've dug out of that hole."
Collier put Texas on the board with a layup coming out of the timeout. Maryland quickly countered, though, and managed to extend the lead to 13-2 before the Longhorns roared to life. Suddenly, things began to click on both ends of the floor, as the Horns used a 10-0 run to slice the deficit to just one.
Maryland widened the margin to 18-12 soon thereafter, and though Texas managed to cut it to five with 2:26 left in the second quarter, the Terrapins kept a firm grasp on the lead and led 32-25 as the buzzer sounded and the teams headed to the half.
"At halftime, we were down, 32-25," Schaefer said. "I wrote as few notes as I've ever written. Defensively, it was transition defense. We could guard them on the halfcourt — we just needed to get back. Offensively, we just had to keep attacking, and we felt like we had some areas that we could take advantage of."
Texas took advantage of those areas all night, but Schaefer alluded to the fact postgame that the win was less about his team's offense or defense and more about the intangibles that can not be captured in a box score.
"It's one thing to talk the talk, it's another thing to walk the walk," Schaefer said. "They want to be active participants in their success. You have to be. Nobody's going to give it to you. I told them, 'If you don't come out and fight, absolutely fight today, they might try to hang as much as they can on you. But if you fight every possession, there's eight five-minute games. If you win those, more than they do, you'll have a chance.'"
UT's defensive performance can not be overstated, as the Horns appeared well-prepared, and held Maryland to 40 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent from three-point range. With good three-point looks hard to come by, the Terrapins struggled to gain traction on offense.
"Again, [Maryland] does so many things, but there were a couple of things that were their bread and butter, and I thought we took that away from them," Schaefer said.
Texas suffered two injuries late in the second half, when guards Joanne Allen-Taylor and Audrey Warren each went down with injuries late in the fourth quarter. Each remained on the hardwood, reeling in pain for over a minute. Allen-Taylor returned shortly after she was helped to the bench. Their status was unclear postgame, though Warren did come sprinting from the tunnel as the final buzzer sounded to join the mass of burnt orange and white at center-court.
Collier, having already opted to enter the 2021 WNBA Draft, made sure she had at least one more opportunity to don the Texas uniform, pulling down 11 rebounds and scoring a team-high 16 points, producing her second double-double in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Taylor was right behind her with 15 points, none bigger than the game-tying jumper with 59 seconds to play. The sophomore went 2-of-3 from behind the arc, had 11 rebounds and dished out four assists. Allen-Taylor scored 14 points, and Lambert chipped in with 10.
"You know what, we'll stay for another one ... and that's our motto," Schaefer said. "We'll see what happens there."