An appearance in the NCAA Tournament was nearly a foregone conclusion for the Longhorns, but knowing who they would play during the opening weekend was still unknown.
Texas, as well as the rest of the women’s college basketball community, found out the seedings and matchups after the bracket was erroneously leaked on ESPN hours before the scheduled selection show was set to air.
The No. 7-seeded Longhorns will face off against the No. 10-seeded Indiana Hoosiers on Friday evening in Eugene, Oregon. Texas’ opening weekend takes place in the Portland region, which has Mississippi State as its No. 1 seed. This is the sixth consecutive year the Longhorns have made the NCAA Tournament.
As for the premature release of the bracket, ESPN released a statement following the mistake:
“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s Women’s Selection Special, we received the bracket, similar to years past. In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community. We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
The early reveal was felt throughout the country as many teams canceled their watch parties for the selection show. Texas did not host a viewing session for the bracket reveal, but still held an event for fans to attend.
“I’m disappointed for our players,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “Every year, it’s a very big event and it’s something you look forward to, and in particular the freshmen who have never experienced it before (look forward to it).”
Nonetheless, the Longhorns are ecstatic for their 32nd tournament appearance in program history.
“We’re excited and very thankful to be in the tournament,” point guard Sug Sutton said. “Not a lot of people are able to get into the tournament, so you have to be thankful.”
Texas’ opponent, the Hoosiers, are a team that finished 10th in the Big Ten conference and posted a sub-.500 record in conference play. The Hoosiers qualified as a 10 seed over Big 12 teams such as West Virginia and TCU. Four Big 12 teams total were invited to the tournament, including Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State.
“I was surprised, I really was,” Aston said. “I’m shocked that we didn’t get one more in.”
The Longhorns’ Friday matchup means the team will have had 12 days since their last game, which was a Big 12 Tournament loss in the semifinals to Iowa State. The long layoff has guard Danni Williams on edge and anxious to resume play following the team’s longest break of the season.
“Personally, I don’t like having that many days go by without a game,” Williams said. “You can practice, but (the game physicality) can be hard to replicate in practice.”
The Longhorns aren’t only facing the Hoosiers, but also the expectations and the standard set before them.
Texas has made it to the Sweet 16 the past four years. However, this version of the Longhorns isn’t the same juggernaut it was in past years.
“It’s not really a seed that I’m surprised by,” Aston said. “We probably made our bed as far as the seed that we are. As far as the matchup with Indiana, I think that it’s a good matchup for us.”