March is a fabulous month. Think about it…it’s the beginning of Spring and nature is renewing itself. The bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and all the beautiful wildflowers are blooming along the highways and byways in Texas, which seem particularly prolific this year. In addition, March is the month where EVERYONE gets to be Irish, at least for a day. But, best yet, March is home to March Madness, perhaps the most celebrated sporting event in American collegiate athletics.

After months of play, grinding out the travel, and establishing win-loss records, regular season conference champions secured their spots in the NCAA Basketball Championship tournament. The excitement of conference tournaments saw some underdogs upset the favorites to also punch their tickets to, as the NCAA Championships are often referred, “The Big Dance.” On Selection Day, teams are televised on their campuses awaiting the announcement of their seeding, like a big suitcase party, adding even more excitement to the buildup of the tournament.

68 teams are selected for both the men’s and women’s tournaments and one of the most defining characteristics of March Madness is the prevalence of those underdog teams, referred to as “Cinderellas.” These teams, often from smaller conferences, defy the odds and can make deep runs in the tournament, capturing the imagination of fans everywhere. Whether it’s Loyola-Chicago’s improbable Final Four run in 2018 with the help of their lucky charm, the adorable Sister Jean, or Yale’s stunning upset of Auburn this year, March Madness consistently provides David vs. Goliath matchups that make the tournament so darn fun to watch. 

Of course, offices around the country have their March Madness office pool brackets in place, alums have their colors and big foam fingers ready to go, and fans have their favorites, but everyone loves those magical buzzer beaters like Blue Devil Christian Laettner’s miracle shot to sink Kentucky in ’92, or Arkansas’ U.S. Reed’s 49 footer to upset Louisville in 1981 in Austin. I personally like to adopt several schools, so I have lots of dogs in the hunt, but I am seriously invested in the UT teams. The men were so close to a magical comeback in the second round, but it wasn’t to be. I went into mourning but had to snap myself out of it to send all of my positive vibes to the women, which fortunately worked as they are through to the Sweet 16. Yay! Lesssssgo, Horns!

Aaliyah Moore Moves Texas into the 2024 Sweet 16

One of the wonderful things about the Stark is that we are working to preserve the history of Longhorn athletics. We have media files, photos, scrapbooks, as well as other artifacts and ephemera. We are fortunate to have a lot of that history, including the basketball programs’ history, housed in our archives. Basketball has been a major part of UT athletics since the early 1900s. The men began competing in 1906 and while the women didn’t begin full varsity intercollegiate competition until many, many years later, they were organized beginning in 1899 with the hire of Pearl Norvell as the physical training instructor for women and played other institutions but only at home. The men’s game started outside at Clark’s Field, playing there until 1917 until it moved inside to the new Men’s Gym, and was touted as great physical training for the football players in the off season. The women played a vastly different game then did the men, with restricted movement, and played only home games in a renovated room in the old Main Building. The women’s game was considered good exercise, provided the young ladies didn’t “over-exercise” or compete. Eventually, the women’s game moved beyond this ideology and, in 1974, full varsity intercollegiate competition began.  

The men’s program has enjoyed considerable success since its inception. The Longhorns have won many conference championships and have competed in the NCAA tournament fairly routinely. While they still haven’t been able to grab the brass ring, they’ve come close several times and always thrill UT fans. The women have been a force in basketball since they were finally allowed to compete, culminating in an NCAA Championship in 1986 (pictured at left). 

There have been more individual standouts than can be mentioned in a short blog but, suffice it to say, Texas has been well represented in the NBA, WNBA (and its predecessors), and Olympic play. While there is no “I” in team, watching the individual talent grow and blossom and represent UT is a manifestation of that Longhorn Pride everyone feels who bleeds burnt orange. Here are just a few of those Longhorn Legends for you to remember.

But for now, let’s stay focused on this year’s March Madness and enjoy the effort of all those young student-athletes playing with their hearts on their sleeves in pursuit of an NCAA Championship and let’s all scream a little louder for our Longhorn Women’s Team when they tip off tomorrow night at 9pm in Portland against Gonzaga. Go ‘Horns, Go!

Special Thanks to UT Athletics for these wonderful photos.

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