When Texas underwent an early-season coaching change, the Longhorns could have fallen apart.
But interim coach Rodney Terry kept them together, and the No. 2 Longhorns are a win away from their first Final Four since 2003. They will get the chance to advance on Sunday against No. 5 Miami when the two meet in the Midwest Region final of the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday.
The downtown Kansas City arena is familiar territory for the Longhorns, who won the Big 12 Championship there two weekends ago with a resounding victory over top-seeded Kansas.
“We’ve been here before,” Texas guard Marcus Carr said. “Having our fans come out and support us is big.”
The Longhorns (29-8) dismantled No. 3 Xavier in the region’s semifinal game on Friday, 83-71. They shot 52.5 percent from the field, including 7 of 12 from 3-point range.
In the first half, the Longhorns hit 53.1 percent of their shots and held Xavier to just 27.3 percent, taking a 42-25 halftime lead when Timmy Allen hit a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer.
Xavier never got closer than 12 points in the second half and Texas led by as many as 24 points.
What was the secret to Texas’ success?
“Rodney Terry,” Sir’Jabari Rice said, per the Houston Chronicle. “He prepares us really well. He’s the GOAT in preparation. There’s no other guy I would rather ask for to be in that situation.”
The Hurricanes (28-7) will bring Nigel Pack back to the region, where he played at Kansas State for two seasons before joining the Hurricanes ahead of this campaign.
In Friday night’s 89-75 win over No. 1-seed Houston, Pack scored 26 points, hitting 7 of 10 from 3-point range, including several that were well beyond the arc.
“My teammates found me early and got me going,” Pack said. “They kept feeding me and telling me to shoot the ball. I tried to have confidence that it would keep going in.”
His head coach, Jim Larranaga, meant it as the highest of compliments when he called his star’s game, “a joke.”
“He was ridiculous,” Larranaga said. “I don’t know how far some of those shots were. People ask me what I say to him when he misses one of those long shots. I say, ‘Keep shooting.'”
Expect a high-scoring game. The Hurricanes hung 89 points on Houston, the nation’s second-best defense in terms of points allowed (57.5). The Cougars also entered first in field-goal percentage defense (36.6 percent).
Texas will need to find a way to stop Pack, who has found a different gear in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 21 against Drake in the first round before hitting his season high against Houston. He averages 13.8 points per game and is shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Longhorns can score, too. They average 77.9 points per game and are led by Carr (15.8) and Rice (12.9).
They could be without forward Dylan Disu, who sustained a foot injury in the second-round game against Penn State. His status won’t be known until pregame activities, CBS Sports reported Saturday. Disu averages 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Larranaga will rely on his team defense performing like it did against Houston, which limited the Cougars to 37.5 percent shooting and 29.0 percent from 3-point territory, including 14.3 percent in the second half.
“We used the expression that on defense, you need to be omnipresent,” he said. “You need to be everywhere all at once.”
Miami has never made a Final Four appearance.
–Field Level Media