April 1, 2024 

Texas ends remarkable season in Elite Eight

'These kids are truly champions'

PORTLAND, Ore. — Sitting atop the dais after Texas’ Elite Eight loss to NC State, senior guard Shay Holle held back tears — her eyes already red and a little puffy from crying — as her head coach made his opening statement. Though Holle has another year of eligibility, she was feeling the emotional reality that teammate Shaylee Gonzales‘ college career had come to a close.

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“Shaylee is super special, definitely part of the reason I’m upset,” Holle told reporters. “She just puts in a lot of hard work. And me and her get shots up every day together,” Holle trailed off.

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Holle took a moment to wipe her tears and collect herself before apologizing and continuing.

“I’ll definitely miss her but I’m super proud of her. I know she has a lot of great things ahead — it’s not like her story stops here at all. We’re super blessed to have had her the past two years. She’s an amazing person more than anything. And I know God has a lot of great things in store for her. So I’m excited for her in that way. But, definitely going to miss her.”

The 5’10 graduate student played the first three years of her career at Brigham Young University before transferring to Texas, where she played 73 games in two seasons. Gonzales’ role changed dramatically from one school to another but she was successful and impactful in both places.

Texas guard Shaylee Gonzales embraces head coach
Texas Longhorns head coach Vic Schaefer hugs Texas Longhorns guard Shaylee Gonzales (2) after she fouled out in the second half against the NC State Wolfpack in the Elite Eight at the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Photo Credit | Lydia Ely/The Next)

It was a frustrating afternoon for Gonzales as she sat for extended periods due to foul trouble before ultimately fouling out of the game. But the Longhorns wouldn’t have gotten to play on Sunday at all if it weren’t for her performance in the Sweet 16.

Head coach Vic Schaefer thought Gonzales should be up on the dais with them but took the opportunity in his opening statement to commend his departing leader.

“She’s the most incredible young lady. What she’s brought to our program — the impact, the presence that she has — [is] so far-reaching and everlasting. Been here two short years. I can’t believe she’s already been here two years, and she’s not going to be back next year.”

Schaefer joked that he would’ve loved to have the “grandma” of the team for all of her college years but is thankful for the time they did have. “We don’t win without her. We don’t win without all these kids.”

Senior Khadija Faye is also not returning to Texas next season, according to head coach Vic Schaefer. Whether this is because of a choice to transfer or running out of eligibility is unclear. Faye played her first two seasons of college ball at Texas Tech before playing the last two with Texas. While in Austin, the Senegalese international player competed in 64 games, scored 371 points and grabbed 282 rebounds. 

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Three-point line discrepancy

The Texas Elite Eight matchup was frustrating for the Longhorns before the game even tipped off. As players completed pre-game warmup both head coaches were made aware that the three-point lines on the court at Moda Center in Portland were not the same distance.

Both parties were consulted in deciding whether to play the game with the court as is or delay the game and re-mark the court. They were told that it would take at least an hour to get someone out there to fix it, or longer.

While Schaefer wanted to delay, he ended up agreeing with the reasoning of NC State head coach Wes Moore and others. Two factors in particular influenced their decision — one being that the players had already warmed up and were ready to go. The second key to the decision was the game’s prime spot on ABC, still somewhat of a rarity in the women’s game. The delay likely would’ve cost the game its window on ABC, depriving both teams of playing on big network television.

Schaefer added, “At the end of the day, we had already played a game on it. We both won. So we just decided to play.”

Neither coach elected to tell their players about the issue. Schaefer explained, “There’s no point in talking about it … it’s a shame, but it is what it is. And I don’t think anybody wanted to draw attention to it and put the thing off for an hour.”

Four Texas players stand in a line holding up the Texas Longhorns hand signal with blank disappointed looks on their faces
The Texas Longhorns react to their 76-66 loss to the NC State Wolfpack in the Elite Eight at the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Photo Credit | Lydia Ely/The Next)

The NCAA’s statement on the issue after the game read in part, “At the conclusion of tonight’s game and practice in Portland, the NCAA will be measuring all court lines and markings on the court at the Moda Center. While the NCAA’s vendor has apologized for the error, we will investigate how this happened in the first place. The NCAA is working now to ensure the accuracy of all court markings for future games … The NCAA regrets the error was not discovered sooner.”

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the incident, for Schaefer in particular, was the focus it took away from the game and the student-athletes who played their hearts out. But in terms of the game itself, neither coach thinks it changed the outcome.

“You want to know if I think it had anything to do with the game? Probably not,” Schaefer said. “But I really would have loved to have done what I normally do my last 12 minutes before a game instead of walking around out there, trying to see if the floor’s screwed up.”

Offensive issues

Texas struggled to score the entire game, particularly in the first half. It was the entire game though that they missed open and easy shots they would normally hit. The low scoring was not for a lack of good scoring looks. Postgame, Schaefer was undoubtedly frustrated and disappointed with his team’s offensive performance, but also proud of them for playing their hearts out.

“I’m heartbroke[n] for them because I wanted them to experience going to the Final Four, playing in that game. But at the same time I couldn’t be prouder of my group,” Schaefer told media.

Texas forward <a rel=
Texas Longhorns forward Aaliyah Moore (23) puts up a shot in the second half against the NC State Wolfpack in the Elite Eight at the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Photo Credit | Lydia Ely/The Next)

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The Longhorns took 73 shots compared to the Wolfpack’s 53, propelled by 18 offensive rebounds. But Texas only converted on an abysmal 17% of their shots. Texas only took six 3-pointers on the night and made one while NC State drained nine threes at a 50% clip. The orange team had 20 more paint points, but threes and free throws made the difference.

Offensively, Schaefer thinks it simply wasn’t their night. The Elite Eight might be the worst time for Texas to have played the worst they have in multiple months but sometimes, “it’s just not in the cards.”

Schaefer also finds a lot of pride in what his team overcame this year with so many injuries, particularly the loss of sophomore point guard Rori Harmon. Reaching the Elite Eight is no easy feat in the slightest, and they faced significant adversity on the way.

“This group has done so much, has accomplished so much. I will not let them or anyone take away from what they’ve been able to do this season with the things that have happened,” Schaefer said.

“This group, just because they dropped one today, it doesn’t make them any less special. It doesn’t make them any less remarkable. It doesn’t make them any less of who they’ve been all year long,” Schaefer said. “Tonight wasn’t our night. Give NC State credit. But it doesn’t make it any less of the season … These kids are truly champions.”

Texas will be back

Despite the loss of Gonzales and Faye, the future is bright for the Longhorns. They are set to return the rest of their team and have some remarkable young players. Madison Booker, the first freshman to ever win Big 12 Player of the Year, bounced back from her rough Sweet 16 to lead the team in scoring Sunday with 17 points, adding six rebounds and five assists. Harmon should also return from her ACL injury next season, taking over the point guard and allowing Booker to focus more on scoring.

Sophomore Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda also showed what she can bring in the future. The 6’2 guard only played 13 minutes — scoring three points, grabbing two rebounds and providing one assist — but she made a big impact on the defensive end. She was particularly effective and comfortable in Texas’ zone defense, taking up a lot of space and room with her wingspan.

“She came off the bench the other night and didn’t play very well and she knew it, and it upsets her. The kid wants to please so bad. And I want her to be great — I think the kid can be. But it seemed like Friday night she couldn’t get out of her own way. Tonight she played well,” Schaefer said.

Texas <a rel=
Texas Longhorns forward Madison Booker (35) celebrates a score in the second half in the Elite Eight at the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Photo Credit | Lydia Ely/The Next)

Shay Holle and Aaliyah Moore were both named to the Portland Regional 4 All-Tournament team for their outstanding performances. Both impressed equally on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Schaefer’s special message

Before departing the press conference space Schaefer took time to deliver one final heartfelt message to those sitting in the room.

“Before I go, I just want to thank everybody for being here,” Schaefer said. “And I want to thank everybody for what you mean to our game … to have you all here covering our game and promoting our game and caring about our game means so much.”

The head coach continued, “I want you to know how much it’s appreciated. Our student-athletes appreciate you. My administration appreciates you. And I can tell you, as the head coach at the University of Texas, I appreciate each and every one of you. And you just keep telling the good stories and hopefully we won’t give you too many bad ones.”

Schaefer isn’t worried about bad stories though. He acknowledged that sometimes the good comes with the bad and its important to tell both sides. But he said he knows there will never be anything bad to write about his players’ remarkable character.

“These kids are — they’re great Longhorns. And they’re incredible competitors, and they do it the right way. And that’s how I can sit up here today with a smile on my face — even though I just got beat — and be so proud of them. Because I know they did everything they could — today, yesterday, the day before — to get to this point.”

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Written by Bella Munson

Bella began writing for The Next in September 2023.

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