The Ivy League is 1-21 in NCAA women’s tournament play, a mark which has no bearing on how Texas is approaching its opening matchup with Penn.
The No. 5 seed Longhorns begin their 27th NCAA tournament when they face the 12th-seeded Quakers on Sunday in College Park.
After going 12-18 last year, Texas (21-11) is making its first NCAA appearance under second-year coach Karen Aston – and the Longhorns won’t be taking Penn (22-6) lightly after the Quakers won the Ivy title.
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"When you watch film of Penn, I don’t think we will consider ourselves a heavy favorite at all," Aston said. "They have a lot of confidence, and we don’t have a lot of players who have won games in the NCAA tournament. So, we’re somewhat on a level playing field as far as that is concerned."
Aston is in the tournament as a head coach for the second time after leading Charlotte to an NCAA berth in 2009. She was an associate head coach under Hall of Famer Jody Conradt when the Longhorns advanced to the Final Four in 2003.
Texas, which hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2008, is tied with Louisiana Tech and Vanderbilt for the fourth-most appearances.
Leading the way for the balanced Longhorns is Nneka Enemkpali with 12.3 points per game, followed by Imani McGee-Stafford (10.6) and Chassidy Fussell (10.4). Enemkpali is also averaging 8.8 rebounds.
In preparing for Penn, the Longhorns have paid particular attention to 6-foot-3 freshman center Sydney Stipanovich, whose 98 blocks this season were more than twice that of the Ivy League runner-up. More importantly, the Quakers are 13-1 when she starts.
"She doesn’t really carry herself like a freshman," Aston said. "Obviously her shot-blocking ability jumps out at you pretty quickly, but her composure has been the most impressive thing to me."
Stipanovich got her chance to shine after Katy Allen went out with a foot injury in late February.
"Sydney has been special for us and was special right from the beginning," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "Once we made that change I wasn’t going to turn back."
Penn takes a five-game winning streak into the matchup. In their two previous NCAA tournament appearances, the Quakers lost as a No. 15 seed to Texas Tech 100-57 in 2001 and fell as a No. 15 seed to Connecticut 91-55 in 2004.
The Ivy League’s struggles in the NCAA tournament haven’t given Penn’s coach nor his players any extra motivation to win.
"One-and-21 is not something we look at," McLaughlin said. "This is about the University of Pennsylvania."
This will be the first meeting between the schools.