Tuesday, April 1
Updated: April 2, 4:00 PM ET
Texas on tear as it takes another step in tourney
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
Call it a season of firsts for Texas.
The Longhorns won their first Big 12 regular-season title. They also won their first league tournament crown. And although Texas will be making its third Final Four appearance this weekend, it's the Longhorns' first appearance in the national semifinals in 16 years.
Simply put, Texas is on a tear and rides a 17-game winning streak to Atlanta. Will it hold up? Here's our take.
1. What has impressed you most about Texas so far in the NCAA Tournament?
Everything. I love this team. I love the Longhorns' game. I like what they do at both ends of the court. Jody Conradt is doing a fine job of coaching and has more talent to compete than she's had in years. She has a true star and All-American candidate in Stacy Stephens. Jamie Carey, one of the best point guards in the game, understands all the mental components of how to run this team and is the cornerstone of its success. She controls the ball and the tempo and gets the ball to the right people. Heather Schreiber is one of the most versatile players in the country and has a Dirk Nowitzki-type game. Texas, which also has great role players, has really good team speed and balanced scoring.
2. What has surprised you most about Texas?
I wasn't as surprised as impressed at Texas' ability to take away LSU's running game Tuesday. The Longhorns held LSU, a team averaging 78.3 points in the NCAA Tournament, to 22 first-half points. Texas plays very good defense and follows the solid, man-to-man principles of defense. The Longhorns try to force you to keep the ball on one side of the floor and deny the ball reversal. Not many teams are more up-tempo than LSU, but Texas, which also beat fast-paced Arkansas earlier in the tournament, has proven it can take way your running game. This team is committed to defense and committed to rebounding and not giving up second shots.
3. What is Texas' biggest strength and weakness?
Texas is a dynamite rebounding team and is averaging just less than 40 boards a game. The Longhorns grabbed 49 rebounds -- including 25 offensive -- against Arkansas in the second round. But unlike LSU or UConn, which both have quick and instinctive rebounders who react to a missed shot, the Longhorns look to box out and put a body on you as the shot is being put up. Texas is more of a position rebounding team. There's no glaring weakness here, but a lack of depth could come into play if Texas gets into foul trouble. Against LSU on Tuesday, each of the Longhorns' starters played at least 31 minutes. Only three other players saw action, and only one got more than nine minutes.
4. What does coach Jody Conradt need to focus on?
UConn's posts are quicker and more athletic, so Jody Conradt must find a way to prevent the Huskies' posts from outrunning her kids down the floor. It'll be very important to make UConn's Jessica Moore and Barb Turner shoot over the Longhorns. You can't give them layups. UConn gets a tremendous amount of layups off the high-low, especially with Diana Taurasi passing the ball. And the Huskies are good post-to-post passers, too. Texas also has to be wary of UConn's post-to-post screens. That's what troubled Oklahoma so much in last year's national championship game. So Conradt must get her kids prepared to make the right decisions -- do they go over the screen, under the screen or switch off? It takes communication, trust and execution to beat these screens, and these are things Texas must figure out this week.
5. What does Texas need to do to win the NCAA title?
Just continue playing pretty good basketball. Texas committed just five turnovers Tuesday, and like every team, needs to continue to keep those at a minimum. The Longhorns also should look to stop the transition and force UConn into a halfcourt game as much as possible. And the bottom line is that Stephens, Schreiber and Carey need to continue to come up big.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.