The Austin Chronicle


By Kahron Spearman, December 18, 2015, Sports

This past week has found three Texas programs on the upswing, albeit for differing (and often confusing) reasons. Nevertheless, as they say, a win is a win is a win.

Onward and Upward for UT Volleyball:

Third-seeded Lady Horns have advanced to their 11th Final Four, following Saturday's big win over No. 2 seed Florida. Texas' senior class – Kat Brooks, Molly McCage, and Amy Neal – will become the first in Longhorn history to play in four consecutive NCAA semifinals, as they hope to capture their second national title. It will also be Texas' seventh visit in eight years.

Texas plays its national semifinal Thursday (Dec. 17) in Omaha, against second-seeded Minnesota Gophers, who they last played in the 2012 regular season. The Horns swept them in the 2009 semis.

Football Gets Stranger, but Stronger:

Following a rejection from TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, Charlie Strong and company finally got their (second) man for Texas' OC position, in Tulsa QB coach/spread offense aficionado Sterlin Gilbert. Initially on board, talks broke down after confusion and rejection of major points in contract language.

Coming back with the big guns – President Gregory Fenves, AD Mike Perrin, and Strong – the contingent sealed the deal, making a direct late Friday night visit to Gilbert's Tulsa home. The new coordinator also brings along Mike Mattox as new offensive line coach and running game coordinator.

Gilbert's hire locks in Strong's overt desire for complete installment of the power spread seen at Houston, Tulsa, and especially their Big 12 rival schools, TCU and Baylor. Gilbert and Mattox are also expected to help shore up recruiting.

Smart's First:

Steve Patterson got one thing correct: He hired the right coaches. Shaka Smart picked up his first signature win, with a head-turning, last-nanosecond victory over Final Four hopeful North Carolina.

The aggressive Horns overcame shooting-efficiency woes – especially at the charity stripe – by dominating the glass, going +12 offensively. Cameron Ridley (12 pts. and 13 reb.) outplayed the Heels' frontline.

The win has already paid immediate dividends, as Smart landed No. 27 nationally ranked prospect Andrew Jones (6'4" SG, MacArthur/Irving) just after the victory.

As younger teams do after big wins, they came out predictably flat in a 67-55 win over Appalachian State. The energy levels must be ratcheted up for Saturday's matchup at Stanford (Dec. 19).

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