While the expectations for Texas heading into the NCAA tournament are lower than in previous years, the Longhorns will be heavy favorites tonight when they face UTSA in the first round.
It’s the quintessential David vs. Goliath storyline, with big bad Texas taking on its little sibling from San Antonio.
But the No. 6 Longhorns aren’t looking past the underdog Roadrunners. Head coach Jerritt Elliott has downplayed talk of a possible rematch with No. 14 Illinois — a team that swept Texas in Austin back in September — in the Sweet 16.
“We have to take care of UTSA in the first round, they’re a good opponent. But we need to get our rhythm going and play well,” Elliott said. “That’s our focus point now. We have to ensure we are one of the teams that gets to the regional next weekend.”
But the Longhorns (23-5; 18-2 Big 12) still have Juliann Faucette, the Big 12 Player of the Year, on their side and the senior outside hitter has picked up her performance leading up to the Big Dance.
“Juliann has played really well the last two months,” Elliott said. “She’s found a great rhythm, her confidence is the highest it’s ever been since she’s been with this program and she’s carrying a big load for us.”
The award is the culmination of four long years of hard work by Faucette, something that has not gone unnoticed by her teammates. As junior setter Michelle Kocher puts it, the team feeds off her dedication.
“It’s what she deserves, she’s one of the hardest working players,” Kocher said. “She’ll come in early and even despite all the accolades she gets, you wouldn’t know that by the way she practices every day. She deserves it.”
And with two players on the All-Big 12 first team — Faucette and junior middle blocker Rachael Adams — the Longhorns have big-time talent and are poised to make some noise in the tournament.
“We’re one of the teams that can contend for the Final Four,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be tough from the second round on.”
But before Texas makes any travel plans for the finals in Kansas City, they have to avoid a major letdown against the 22-11 Roadrunners.
“Our program has done really well in the past of just taking things one game at a time,” Kocher said.
The road to the Final Four goes through Austin, and it’s up to the Longhorns to protect the home court advantage one set at a time.