One look at the Texas women's basketball schedule reveals hardly any differences from seasons past. The Longhorns will play competitive opponents in non-conference play, notably Tennessee and Texas A&M. They will face each conference opponent once at home and once on the road.
But in a year marked by Covid-19, precautions, protocols and guidelines stemming from the virus, this kind of schedule is unique. UT's seven non-conference games is among the most of any team in the country.
New head coach Vic Schaefer said Thursday that he is not sure whether the extensive non-conference schedule will prove to be an advantage or a disadvantage. Either way, this kind of a setup, with the season beginning in late November and conference play kicking off by mid-December, is a model Schaefer has supported for quite a while.
"Playing seven non-conferences games, starting on Nov. 25 ... I'm a proponent of the old days, where we don't start playing until Thanksgiving," said Schaefer Thursday in his meeting with the media. "It has turned into a 12-months-a-year sport. You have to be careful — if you're not careful, you can wear people out. I'm excited about it. I'm not sure if it will give us an advantage or a disadvantage. It won't give us any advantage at all if we get teams sick and you have to sit out for 14 days."
If nothing else, the non-conference slate will test UT's depth, and the Horns' five freshmen will get to experience college basketball at the highest level before the crucial conference slate gets underway.
Texas will also have three players: Lauren Ebo, Karisma Ortiz and Kyra Lambert, who will suit up for the first time as Longhorns after transferring to Texas. Ortiz sat out last season due to NCAA rules after transferring from Penn State. Schaefer said that Ebo, who petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligiblity after transferring from Penn State, is still a question mark for this season.
"Currently we're in the middle of that fight," Schaefer said, "but we're still holding out hope. She's been wonderful. What a great kid and [she is] really going to make us better whenever we can get her on the court."
When asked about what he has emphasized most to his team during the preseason, Schaefer spoke more of keeping his players in shape mentally rather than physically, giving them the weekends off and seeing the positives in the late start to the season.
"The biggest thing I emphasize is I try to give our kids weekends off," Schaefer said. "Once we get into the season, you're playing either Saturdays or Sundays. I hate playing on Sundays, y'all. I just came from a league, I called it the 'Heathen League' because we played on Thursdays and Sundays. I hated it. We get a lot of kids that like to go to church. I want to be in church, my staff wants to be in church and you look across the country and you see the problems of the world ... you know, that might be part of our issue, but nonetheless, we get kids that want to go and they can't. So I try to give our kids off weekends right now because once we get into January and February you're going to be playing on a Saturday and traveling."
He added that he has made sure his team follows Covid-19 protocols, even if other teams in the conference and in the country do not.
"Right now, I want them to be focused on eating right, sleeping right, wearing your mask," Schaefer said. "We're getting closer to the season. We don't need any hiccups. I've just been trying to impart on them the importance of ... 'we're trying to have a season ya'll. Let's make sure Texas ... we do our part and we don't screw it up.' Somebody else may not be able to take care of their business, but we need to take care of our business."