AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 25 Texas women's basketball team never abandoned the fight in a tough non-conference battle with No. 12 Texas A&M Sunday evening but fell, 66-61, marking the first loss of the season for head coach Vic Schaefer's squad.
"We've got to fix some things," Schaefer said after the game, "but I'm proud of their fight. I'm really proud of my team."
The Aggies jumping out in front early, overwhelming Texas in the first quarter, the Longhorns climbed back, tying the game at multiple points throughout the second half. It was in the third quarter in which Texas exploded offensively, shooting 53 percent from the field, and outscoring the Aggies, 21-17.
That momentum carried over into the fourth quarter, as Texas earned its first lead of the game, although the Horns never led by more than a single point. With just seconds to play, and Texas down four, Texas guard Celeste Taylor was called for a charging foul, giving the ball back to the Aggies. That sealed the victory for Texas A&M, the Aggies' first over the Longhorns since 2011 in a series that goes back to the 1980s, when UT and A&M were conference rivals.
Texas A&M is Schaefer's alma mater, and the school where he served as an assistant at from 2003-12. The urgency was evident in the Longhorns, who trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth before storming back to make it a game.
But the inconsistency cost Texas. As Schaefer said after the game, "you can't win a game by playing one good half and shooting 33 percent."
That generally is true, but Texas came close. With 40 seconds to play, the Horns trailed by just two, the result of a second half in which UT played well. Texas shot 40 percent from the field, even though Texas A&M held UT center Charli Collier at bay, limiting her to just five points in the second half.
If the loss can be attributed to anything, it was the Horns' poor start. Texas looked tight, and according to Schaefer, the majority of the team was nervous.
"We're really a young and inexperienced team," said Collier, who had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. "A lot of the players who played tonight had never been in that position before so it just shows us how mature we need to be and build early. It takes a whole tribe, it takes a whole team, and I feel like we can build on tonight."
Schaefer said he was especially disappointed in his squad's inability to get a single steal in the first half. Granted, the Horns picked up seven steals in the second half, but that just underscored Schaefer's final anylsis of his team's performance: They played only one good half.
"This is a good indicator to me of how hard my team is or isn't playing," Schaefer said. "I can't tell you if I've ever had a team that had zero steals in a first half. Now we had seven in the second half, our press was effective, forced 18 turnovers, but that's a great indicator. In games like this, we're used to winning these games. Tough, physical, aggressive ... you got to be that."
Losing a game in the final minute is perhaps worse than getting blown out, and that was evident in the faces of Audrey Warren, Collier and Schaefer following the game. In a season in which Tennessee comes to Austin next Sunday and conference play kicks off in just over two weeks, there is little time to dwell on the "what could have been."
Instead, Schaefer already is looking ahead, noting that his guards need to take more open shots, and lessen the load on post players like Collier, who was often double- or triple-teamed by the Aggies. He said he sees Joanne Allen-Taylor, who had 12 second-half points, as a key contributor for the Longhorn offense moving forward. The play of freshmen Ashley Chevalier, who spent time at point guard, and forward DeYona Gaston, who finished with a team-high four blocks, encouraged the head coach, who will look to both of them for a quick spark throughout the course of this season.
"I thought Ashley Chevalier was outstanding tonight — her and DeYona Gaston," Schaefer said. "DeYona was spectacular. She had four big ol' blocks. I mean she threw one in the fifth row, and she was a great help defender. Those two kids, as freshmen, really competed and played really, really hard.
"We'll be fine if this time next Sunday we're better and we're executing better, we're making shots and we're doing things better. Then we're OK. If we don't learn from tonight, we've got issues."
"I think the biggest thing that we're going to learn from this loss is that we can't start anymore games like we started today," Warren added. "We need to come out more intense, ready to defend and execute our offense."