No. 5 Texas takes on No. 12 Penn in Sunday’s March Madness game

Jori Epstein

It hasn’t hit sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford that she’s playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. It hasn’t set in that her Longhorn team earned a No. 5 seed, its best since 2005 when Texas was slotted No. 3.

“It probably won’t hit us until we lace up our shoes for that first game,” McGee-Stafford said.

But it has hit her that the team needs to win and break a five-game tournament losing streak dating back to 2008.

“We finally get a chance to partake in March Madness and not sit at home watching others teams do what we worked so hard for,” McGee-Stafford said. “It’s [our] reward for running sprints and waking up at ungodly hours.”

Coming off a 67-60 semifinal loss in the Big 12 Tournament to No. 7 West Virginia, the Longhorns spent no time moping around. The team focused on preparing for the tournament, building off of Big 12 mistakes as a foundation for improvement.

“We got a little too high when we beat Oklahoma in the [Big 12] tournament,” head coach Karen Aston said. “In less than 24 hours we had to turn around and play again and we didn’t get our motors going. If we’re fortunate enough to win one game, we’ll learn how to better prepare ourselves for the next.”

Advancing past Ivy League champion Penn (22-6, 12-2) is among Texas’ goals for its first NCAA postseason game since 2012. The Longhorns hold a 32-25 record in their 26 past tournament appearances, but just one title in 1986 to show for it.

Although Texas (21-11, 11-7) faced the 10th-toughest schedule in the nation this year compared to Penn’s 130th, Aston isn’t taking her competition lightly. She said she watched a lot of film over spring break to scout out the competition. 

“We have talent and really good players,” Aston said. “It’s just a matter of them believing they’re good and putting the chemistry together. The core group is talented enough to go places. I don’t think we’re through yet at all.”

Texas faces Penn for the first time in program history at 2 p.m. Sunday in College Park, Md. The game will be televised on ESPN.