KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Texas women's basketball team's run in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship came to an end Saturday when the No. 5-seeded Longhorns fell to top-seeded Baylor, 66-55, in the semifinals at Municipal Auditorium.
"I have a lot of confidence in these kids," Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I have a real deep appreciation, because I know how hard they've worked to get to where we are now. I think that we've now played Baylor twice in the last two weeks and really played hard with them."
"One hundred percent," Texas guard Celeste Taylor said when asked if she feels the team can play with anyone in the country. "I think that each day we're getting better. As the days go by, we keep working hard and keep getting after it. Being there for one another and having each other's backs, I feel like at the end of the day, we can compete anyone in the nation."
That mindset revealed itself throughout the contest, though Baylor raced out to a 6-0 lead and Texas trailed for the entirety of the game. The Horns were held scoreless for the first 5:29 before forward Lauren Ebo hit one of two free throws. The Lady Bears extended their lead to 10 twice in the opening quarter, before an Ebo jumper in the paint with 39 seconds left cut the deficit to eight, at 20-12, at the end of the first.
The Lady Bears shot 68 percent from the field in the second quarter. Texas experienced multiple defensive breakdowns as Baylor drove the lane and shot the ball from short range, not attempting a single three in the period.
While the second was Baylor's best quarter statistically, it was the Longhorns who began the quarter on a 7-2 run, highlighted by a three-pointer by Taylor.
Taylor was the Horns' driving force on offense, as leading scorer Charli Collier was held to three points, in three Texas losses to Baylor, Collier was held to 17 points combined — three fewer than her per-game average this season of 20.1 points per game. Taylor led the team with 22 points, going three-of-four from beyond the arc and playing all 40 minutes.
"I think you're seeing a kid that has put in the time on free throws, on her shooting," Schaefer said of Taylor. "The game honors those that spend time on their craft and she's not distracted. She's focused."
Despite Baylor's second-quarter offensive surge, Texas was step-for-step with the Lady Bears, and cut the lead to one, 27-26, on a jumper by guard Joanne Allen-Taylor with 4:53 remaining in the first half. Baylor led, 37-30, at halftime.
Baylor sealed the game in the third quarter, mounting a 6-1 run to begin the second half. The Lady Bears took a 43-31 lead at that point, and widened their advantage to 12 on a free throw by Dijonai Carrington with 18 seconds remaining in the period.
Texas scored the first three points of the final quarter, but it was not enough to cut into Baylor's lead. The Longhorns trimmed the lead back to single digits with 3:44 to play. But the Lady Bears clinched a spot in Sunday's championship game with an 8-2 scoring run to close out the victory.
Texas forward Audrey Warren was deemed inactive for the remainder of the tournament due to illness on Friday, but on Saturday Warren returned to the court. She played 29 minutes, and while she scored just two points, Warren gave the Horns added depth in the high post.
"We've got our team doctor with us and they have really monitored her and taken good care of her," Schaefer said. "She started feeling a lot better yesterday afternoon. By last night, she was getting close to being herself. Now we knew that after two days of inactivity and sitting in a hotel room she wouldn't be great, but she's still a vital part of our chemistry and of our program."
There is nothing to do now but wait for Monday, when pairings for the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament will be announced. According to Schaefer, the question is not if Texas will get in, it is where the Horns will play.
"I'm not worried about" whether the Longhorns will qualify, Schaefer said. "I think we've played our way to a 6 [seed]. I think we've shown the country that if that's the sixth-ranked team in the country, we've gone toe-to-toe with them and competed with them our last two ballgames. I feel like we're in a good place right now and we're getting better."