Women’s basketball to face Bradley in first round of NCAA Tournament

15 Mar By
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Bradley guard Lasha Petree leads the Braves' offense with an average of 17.5 points per game this season (photo courtesy of bradleybraves.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Longhorns are the No. 6 seed in the Hemisphere Region of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and will face No. 10 Bradley at 7 p.m. March 22 at Texas State’s University Events Center in San Marcos, Texas, in a game that can be seen on ESPN2.

The Longhorns finished the season with an 18-9 record; Bradley enters the contest as a No. 11 seed, having earned the Missouri Valley Conference's automatic bid after winning the conference tournament title in a 78-70 victory Sunday over Drake. The contest against Texas will hold a special meaning for the Braves, who will be playing in the "Big Dance" for the first time in the program's 45-year history.

The news, announced Monday evening, brought great excitement to the team and head coach Vic Schaefer, who sat down with the media with a smile across his face.

"It's a great time of year," Schaefer said. "Super-proud of my kids. I'm really happy for them. As I told them tonight, this is why you keep playing. We moved ourselves up a seed line winning a game in the Big 12 tournament and then playing well against Baylor. I think the committee probably rewarded us for that."

Bradley, which posted a 17-11 record in the regular season, enter Monday's matchup ranked No. 79 in the nation in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, which grades strength of schedule, efficiency, and where the games were played.

UT's full-court pressing defense will be critical against the Braves, who shot 42 percent from the field as a team this season. Leading the offensive attack is a duo of guards in Lasha Petree and Gabi Haack, each of whom is averaging double figures in scoring. Petree shot 39 percent this season and averaged a team-high 17.5 points per game while Haack is just behind her at 16.5 points per game.

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Schaefer spoke of embracing a "street-fight mentality," and not overestimating an opponent.

"We got to embrace the street-fight mentality," Schaefer said. "If it's a loose ball, we've got to be diving on the floor. You saw that in the Baylor game the other night. The 50-50 balls, saving the going-out-of-bounds balls ... we've got to be that team.

"Celeste [Taylor] has been that player all year long, but it takes more than one. As I'll tell them, '(if) you go in there tight, and all worried and all tied up, it won't be fun. It'll be over in a hurry. So you might as well embrace going in there and playing loose, playing like we have been playing and reading and reacting.'"

The Longhorns have played "loose" up to this point, but the postseason brings with it a different mentality. A team must find a way to survive and advance. Not doing so could spell the end of the season. Even with this considered, Schaefer said that he does not alter his approach in the postseason.

"No I don't think you coach different," said Schaefer. "You got to be who you are. They're going to know I'm going to be ready. I think they've realized here lately, I'm into what we're doing. I'm pretty fired up when it's gametime. If I don't think something is right, I'm going to let people know I don't think it's right. That's just me defending my kids. I'm in the fight with them."

The entire 64-team tournament will be played in the central and south Texas, with the Final Four set to be contested in San Antonio's Alamodome.

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