Texas was on the verge of losing another “measuring stick” game until the Longhorns showed some resolve.
The Longhorns, who blew a 15-point first-half lead, played their best when it mattered most — in the fourth quarter. Freshman Jada Underwood scored a career-high 13 points and Brooke McCarty also scored 13 as the No. 17 Longhorns outlasted unranked Tennessee 72-67 Sunday at the Erwin Center.
Texas (3-4) was in dire need of a victory that almost slipped away. Coach Karen Aston said her players “kind of went to sleep” in the second and third quarters but found a way to capture their first victory of the year.
“This might be a preview of what our next games might look like, and that’s not a bad thing,” Aston said. “It just means that with young and inexperienced players comes a roller coaster sometimes.”
Aston was pleased with her team’s overall performance. Freshman Alecia “Sug” Sutton started for the first time in her career. Freshmen Joyner Holmes and Underwood combined for 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Texas took advantage of its depth and had a 39-8 edge in bench points and a 42-24 advantage in second-chance points.
“Those second-chance points just killed us,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
“Texas was powerful, strong and athletic on the boards. We had some times when we battled with them, but you have to do it for 40 minutes, and we didn’t do that.”
Texas earned its biggest lead of the game, 33-18, on a bucket by Underwood midway through the second quarter.
Tennessee (4-4) rode the tandem of forward Jamie Nared (22 points) and guard Diamond DeShields (19 points) to turn the tide. The Lady Vols went on a 14-4 run at the end of the second quarter to slice the Longhorns’ lead to 37-32 at the break.
Tennessee and Texas were tied 52-52 when Nared converted a bucket with 7:35 to play in the game.
Texas would take the lead for good on consecutive field goals by McCarty and Underwood to make it 56-52. Although the Lady Vols kept fighting, they were unable to overcome the Longhorns.
Perhaps the most impressive player in burnt orange was senior post Kelsey Lang, who established paint dominance with 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
“Kelsey’s playing the best basketball of her career,” Aston said.
“We have a lot of young players, especially inside, that we’re having to play,” the 6-5 post said. “I’m just trying to set an example for them. … They’re getting better each day, each practice, each game. If they continue to do that, we’ll get to where we want to be.”
On a negative note, forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau went down with a knee injury in the first half and was helped off the court by UT staff members. Aston said she does not know the extent of her injury.
As for Texas, this was the 499th career victory at the Erwin Center (against 96 losses). The Longhorns can reach No. 500 when they return Thursday night against UT Rio Grande Valley.
Texas has won the battle of the boards in every contest. The Horns outrebounded the Lady Vols 40-32. Their 16 offensive rebounds led to several of their second-chance points.
“Despite the loss, this is a game that could help us down the line,” DeShields said.