A Texas-sized contender — Must-click women’s basketball links — Cori Close talks UCLA

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Dec. 6, 2023

Vic Schaefer reached for comparisons to his Mississippi State teams as he discussed his 2023-24 Texas Longhorns with reporters this week. It’s understandable. This is the best Texas team he’s had yet, and it might be the best team he’s had, period.

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His SID, the great Jeremy Rosenthal, pointed out that Rori Harmon, the team’s engine, has 73 assists so far this season and just 10 turnovers.

“Yeah, so she’s 7.3 to one. So that’s pretty good,” Schaefer said with a smile. “The best point guard I’ve ever had well over the course of a season was four to one and that was Jazzmun Holmes. So you know right now she’s doing a great job taking care of the ball. And that’s where it starts. If she’s not throwing it all over the gym, our team doesn’t typically do it either. So I think that’s a really important stat from a team perspective.”

There are a lot of important stats like that these days for Schaefer in his fourth season coaching the Longhorns. What Schaefer’s teams have done from the moment he arrived on campus — what his teams always do — is defend. When playing against a Vic Schaefer team, it is always a struggle to score.

But when his teams are also able to score at an elite level? Well, they are practically unstoppable. In that win over Connecticut that raised Texas’ mark to 9-0, they turned the ball over just nine times all game, scored 80, had an offensive rating of 115.9 and imposed their will on the Huskies. Paige Bueckers is an elite point guard whose game justifies the hype. But Harmon significantly outplayed her, with a 27-13 edge in points, a 13-4 win in assists.

Part of this is a question of supporting cast, with Bueckers missing Azzi Fudd, but that is the point. This Texas team is loaded. Madison Booker was going to start on Day 1, Vic told me back in the preseason, but she didn’t come off the floor for a second of the UConn game, and is already playing a team game, with an assist percentage north of 22 as secondary playmaker.

But Harmon — man, she’s making history. So far, she’s posted an assist percentage of 39.7 percent, up from her freshman and sophomore seasons which still registered in the mid-30s. And her turnover percentage is 8.1 percent, which just isn’t heard of out of a ball-dominant point guard. In fact, it’s never been done dating back to 2002, according to Adam Darowski of Sports Reference, though he noted McKenna Hofschild at Colorado State is doing it through seven games so far this season as well.

“Just her maturity and being a little bit older, a little bit wiser,” Schaefer explained when I asked him how he accounted for it. “And then she’s surrounded by some pretty good players. And so it doesn’t come down to her always having to create the shot at the end of the shot clock. We’ve got Booker that can do that. [DeYona] Gaston will be able to do that a little bit. We haven’t really gotten down to the end of the shot clock a lot because we’re taking care of the ball.”

About that: this Texas team has another level to reach with Gaston, a two-way force who can provide both additional help among the bigs along with a very capable midrange game.

It all makes for a Longhorns team checking in at 120.6 points per possession, which is not only good for fourth in the nation, but tops the Schaefer team in Starkville back in 2018-19, a 120.5 mark thanks to the stylings of Teaira McCowan, Victoria Vivians and Morgan William. That team might be among the best to never win a national championship, back-to-back trips to the national final, only stymied by a last-second Arike Ogunbowale shot (and some late officiating calls that still cause howls among the Mississippi State faithful).

Schaefer warned that it is still early. But he also said that while he and his team are happy to see their ranking jump to fifth this week, their goal is bigger — it’s number one. On a resume with everything else, Schaefer, powered by Harmon, a legitimate contender to be the best point guard in America, even in this land of Bueckers and Caitlin Clark, has a chance to add champion to the list, too.


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Five at The IX: Cori Close, UCLA

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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.