Lashann Higgs slammed the door and then Ariel Atkins locked it.
In Texas’ 73-55 victory against Missouri on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament, Higgs sparked the Longhorns in the first half before Atkins sealed the victory in the second half, scoring 12 of her 22 points after halftime.
Higgs, a freshman, often takes a back seat to veteran Longhorns guards Brooke McCarty, Celina Rodrigo and Atkins, but she provided a spark Monday.
“My number was called,” she said, “and I felt like I was ready.”
Higgs scored nine of her 11 points in the first half. She notched two steals in the opening half, helping bring life to an offense that was a little bit stagnant.
More of a slasher than a shooter, Higgs’ style suited the Horns because they were scoring most of their points in transition. Three of her baskets in the first half were lay-ups, one was a three pointer.
“I like to play really fast,” Higgs said, “and there are times I have to calm down a little bit.”
Higgs stepped up as McCarty and Rodrigo struggled in the first half, but much of the second half was Atkins’ show. Her teammates urged Atkins to be aggressive. After all, she scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting (2 of 2 from 3-point range) in the first half.
In the third quarter, Atkins said, “my teammates were screaming at me, ‘You’re open and you need to shoot.’ ”
Atkins accepted the message and the encouragement. She was constantly looking for her shot in the second half. She was equally tenacious as a rebounder, snagging five offensive boards.
“We didn’t see that aggressiveness (on film),” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said of Atkins. “I just thought she came out of the gates and just set the tone.”
Going up against Missouri was going to be a challenge because the Tigers have tall and physical guards. Atkins and Higgs helped provide the spark the Horns needed in a guard-oriented game.
Now the Longhorns head into the Sweet 16, where new challenges will await Higgs, Atkins and their backcourt mates.
“When you get late in the tournament,” Longhorns coach Karen Aston said, “guard play is a pretty big deal.”