Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Charli Collier, Celeste Taylor lead Texas into women's Elite 8, give glory to God

When second-seeded Maryland jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead over 6-seed Texas on Sunday in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament, it looked as if the high-scoring Terrapins would cruise yet again. In their first two games this tournament, they scored 98 and 100 points, respectively.

But Texas battled back, took its first lead in the third quarter, and took the lead for good with 45 seconds remaining. The Longhorns held on for a 64-61 win that has them in the Elite Eight as the lowest remaining seed. They will face No. 1-seed South Carolina on Tuesday, and a win there would put Texas in the Final Four for the first time since 2003.

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Leading the scoring for Texas on Sunday was Charli Collier with 16 points. Right behind her was Celeste Taylor with 15. Both women added 11 rebounds each to lead their squad.

“It’s been amazing. Everybody on the court can score at any time,” Taylor said her postgame press conference. “So just having faith in each other and confidence in one another to know that they’re going to hit a basket at any time when you need it, and just knowing when to feed your teammates the ball, where to feed them the ball, so that they can be successful.”

Collier and Taylor have been leading the Longhorns all year. Collier has averaged a team-best 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game this season. The junior announced before the NCAA Tournament that she would forego her final season in college to enter the WNBA Draft, where some have her pegged as the No. 1 pick.

Taylor, a sophomore, has averaged 12.5 points (second on the team), 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals a game. She was a McDonald’s All-American and won three gold medals with USA Basketball youth teams before arriving at Texas.

Both women also lean on their faith in God as they rise through the basketball ranks. Collier says “God First” on her Instagram profile; she thanked God when announcing her intention to enter the WNBA Draft on Twitter, where she lists the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 and says “God’s Plan”; and she wrote “All Glory to God” after Sunday’s victory:

Taylor lists that same Bible verse on her Instagram profile, where she has also cited Isaiah 41:10, Job 42:2 and Proverbs 3:5-6.

And they are led by Texas coach Vic Schaefer in his first season at the helm in Austin. Schaefer was born in Austin, and came home after eight seasons at Mississippi State. He went 221-62 during his time there, and led the Bulldogs to the national championship game in 2017, where they were topped by South Carolina. Schaefer will get a chance to avenge that loss Tuesday. (Mississippi State also lost the title game in 2018.)

Schaefer’s success at Mississippi State — taking the program to the Final Four for the first time in history, and two title game appeareances — led Texas to seek him out last year when its women’s head coaching job opened up. The team is 21-9 in its first season with Schaefer, with South Carolina next on the schedule and a Final Four berth on the line. The Longhorns haven’t been to the Final Four since 2003 and haven’t won a national championship since 1986.

As he attempts to get Texas to that rare destination, Schaefer too will lean on the Lord. After advancing to the Sweet 16, Schaefer praised God in his postgame press conference: “I’m just going to tell y’all, I serve an unbelievable God. I’m just so proud of these kids,” he said.

After advancing to the Elite Eight on Sunday, Schaefer said, “Giving God the glory for No. 21 with this team. We’ll stay for another one. That’s our motto. There’s another one. Let’s see what happens there.”

He later closed his time with the media by saying, “Praise the Lord and Hook ’em Horns.”

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