After going 12-18 last year, Texas is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance under second-year coach Karen Aston.
And the Longhorns won’t be taking Penn lightly, even though the Ivy League is 1-21 in NCAA Tournament play.
“When you watch film of Penn, I don’t think we will consider ourselves a heavy favorite at all,” Aston said. “They have a lot of confidence, and we don’t have a lot of players who have won games in the NCAA Tournament. So, we’re somewhat on a level playing field as far as that is concerned.”
Fifth-seed Texas (21-11) takes on No. 12 seed Penn (22-6), champions of the Ivy League at 2 p.m. Sunday after fourth-seeded and host Maryland (24-6) faces 13th seed Army (25-7) at 11:30 a.m. as part of the Louisville Region.
“One-and-21 is not something we look at,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “This is about the University of Pennsylvania.”
In preparing for Penn, the Longhorns have paid particular attention to 6-foot-3 freshman center Sydney Stipanovich, whose 98 blocks this season were more than twice that of the Ivy League runner-up. More importantly, the Quakers are 13-1 when she starts.
“She doesn’t really carry herself like a freshman,” Aston said. “Obviously her shot-blocking ability jumps out at your pretty quickly, but her composure has been the most impressive thing to me.”
Stipanovich got her chance to shine after Katy Allen went out with a foot injury in late February.
“Sydney has been special for us and was special right from the beginning,” McLaughlin said. “Once we made that change I wasn’t going to turn back.”
Penn takes a five-game winning streak into the matchup. In their two previous NCAA tournament appearances, the Quakers lost as a No. 15 seed to Texas Tech 100-57 in 2001 and fell as a No. 15 seed to Connecticut 91-55 in 2004.