No. 7 Texas (28-4, 15-3) has had a goal of hosting in the NCAA Tournament since the beginning of the season – something the program has failed to do since 2010.
After securing a No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Regional, the Longhorns have done just that.
“It was one of our main goals from the beginning and so just having this opportunity is something that we were really looking forward to,” senior guard Celina Rodrigo said. “We're excited to play in front of some familiar faces and go out there and compete.”
The Longhorns host No. 15 seed Alabama State (19-11, 14-4 SWAC), who Texas considers to be a great defensive team. Despite never facing the Hornets before, Rodrigo said they’ve played similar opponents in the Big 12.
“They are always going to play hard and go after the ball, similar to West Virginia, just very aggressive on defense,” Rodrigo said. “We'll need to make sure we take care of the ball tomorrow night.”
But Alabama State isn’t the only opponent Big 12 play has prepared Texas for. According to sophomore guard Brooke McCarty, conference play has them ready for whomever.
“I think the Big 12 has prepared us because every game you go out there, you know it's going to be a battle, “ McCarty said. “I mean, we've seen everything, and so whatever people throw at us, we've seen it previously and we're just ready to play.”
Everything includes larger guards, which Saturday’s matchup will present for Texas. The Hornets bring in a lineup of five guards of 5-foot-five-inches or taller.
For McCarty and company, this, too, will be nothing new.
“They have big guards,” the five-foot-four-inch McCarty said. “I feel like we've been competing against bigger guards all season. It's going to be a good matchup.”
The Longhorns have only dropped one home game all season and Texas feels a level of comfort playing at the Frank Erwin Center. But even with home court advantage, head coach Karen Aston cautions her team against overlooking opponents.
“It happens all the time,” Aston said. “We saw it yesterday and one today already. There's only been four games played and there's been an upset already in the women's game, so it does happen. But I don't think we've worked all year long to look over anyone.”
While Aston doesn’t want her team to overlook Alabama State, she expects her players to have a certain level of confidence when tip off comes at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“We are in Austin, Texas,” Aston said. “We did all this work to play in front of our fans and our fans help us be confident. I hope everyone comes out tomorrow night, because I do feel like our fans were part of this, part of us having the opportunity to play here with having home-court advantage.”