Longhorns face UCLA on Saturday
Posted March 21st, 2016
Karen Aston expected to see a boisterous basketball team following Texas’ second-round win over Missouri on Monday night. Instead, the Longhorns took a business-as-usual attitude after securing their spot in this weekend’s Sweet 16.
Simply put, Texas expected to win Monday, the head coach said.
Missouri had no answers for Texas’ domination under the hoop, where the Longhorns outscored the Tigers — a team with five starters taller than 6-feet — by a margin of 38-10. Sophomore Ariel Atkins scored 22 points and 6-7 senior Imani Boyette contributed 10 rebounds in the 73-55 victory that sent Texas to its second straight Sweet 16.
The Longhorns (30-4) will face UCLA (26-8) on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn., right after the UConn-Mississippi State game. UConn is the region’s No. 1 seed.
Monday night, Aston praised her players’ effort, saying Texas’ ownership of the paint was the result of many factors. With guards Brooke McCarty, Celina Rodrigo and Atkins setting a fast pace, the Longhorns scored many of their points on transition baskets.
Second-seeded Texas outscored 10th-seeded Missouri 12-4 on fast-break points, 19-11 off turnovers and 21-9 on second-chance points. The Longhorns also dominated the boards, piling up a 47-33 edge.
“I don’t know why we couldn’t get the ball inside, but I know that Texas is huge,” said Missouri freshman guard Sophie Cunningham. “Even when we did get the ball inside, Texas would collapse. They are so long-armed.”
Aston said her two posts — Boyette and 6-5 junior Kelsey Lang — were unsung heroes. Although they combined for just 12 points, they disrupted Missouri’s interior offense, altering shots throughout the game.
After falling behind 6-0, the Longhorns outscored the Tigers 17-3 in the last six minutes of the first quarter to take a 17-9 lead. Freshman guard Lashann Higgs was instrumental in Texas’ early success, scoring 9 of her 11 points in the first half to help the Longhorns to a 36-21 halftime lead.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton opened the game with a “diamond-and-one” defense, designed to prevent McCarty, UT’s leading scorer, from getting easy shots. McCarty was limited to five points on 2-of-9 shooting, but the Tigers had no answer for Atkins, whose 9-for-13 shooting night included three 3-pointers.
“(Missouri) really didn’t guard me much in the third quarter,” Atkins said. “My teammates kept yelling at me, ‘You’re open and you need to shoot the ball.’”
Pingeton was impressed by Atkins’ play, saying she didn’t see “that aggressiveness” from her while watching video.
“I saw her play in high school (at Duncanville) and in AAU ball, but I thought she came out of the gates and really set the tone for the game,” Pingeton said.
Missouri (22-10), which never led after the first quarter, climbed to within 54-43 on a layup by Cunningham with 8:31 left in the game. But any hope for a comeback ended when Atkins followed with a bucket and free throw before Lang hit a bank shot.
Texas substituted freely in the final five minutes, eventually removing its four seniors — Boyette, Rodrigo, Empress Davenport and Brady Sanders. Aston gave each one a hug as they approached the bench while the Erwin Center crowd of 2,345 gave the players a standing ovation.
The night, though, belonged mostly to the underclassmen — Atkins, Higgs and freshman Jordan Hosey, who added six points and three rebounds.
“This game reminded me a lot of senior night,” Aston said, “but we reacted the same way tonight that we did for that game (against TCU). We had so much energy on senior night, and I was concerned about that. That’s a hard game for the seniors to play and this was truly their last game in this arena.”