Texas 71, UCLA 62: With father in the crowd, Celeste Taylor guides UT to the Sweet 16
SAN ANTONIO — For the first time in a few years, an NCAA postseason run at Texas can be described as sweet.
Celeste Taylor scored 24 points to lead sixth-seeded Texas to a 71-62 win over third-seeded UCLA at the Alamodome on Wednesday night. The second-round victory secured Texas' trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018.
Texas (20-9) will face second-seeded Maryland (26-2) at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Alamodome.
"I've been doing this a long time, y'all, I've had some really special victories in my career," said Texas coach Vic Schaefer, in his first year with the Longhorns but 321-181 all-time in a career that includes a stop at Sam Houston State and a successful run at Mississippi State. "That one right there, it's hard to get past that one, just knowing where we started."
Texas was 1-5 this season against ranked teams but bucked that trend against No. 9 UCLA (17-6). The Longhorns never trailed. The last of the game's three ties occurred with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
Texas used only seven players. Taylor and fellow guards Joanne Allen-Taylor and Kyra Lambert never left the floor.
Lambert, Texas' 5-foot-9 point guard, scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Allen-Taylor knocked down three 3-pointers in a 16-point night. And with All-American Charli Collier in foul trouble and starting forward Audrey Warren ailing, Penn State transfer Lauren Ebo provided a solid effort off the bench.
The star of the game, though, was Taylor.
The sophomore guard's 24 points matched her season high. Taylor knocked down nine of her 17 shots and all four of her free throws. She grabbed five rebounds. One of her two assists set up a key 3-pointer by Allen-Taylor in the fourth quarter.
Taylor's breakout performance came with her father, Alex Navarro, cheering among a couple of hundred UT fans in the stands. Due to the pandemic, Taylor's support group — she's from New York — has mostly rooted for her from afar this season. Her parents bought cardboard likenesses at one point to be placed inside the Erwin Center, but her family had seen her play live only during a January game at West Virginia.
After the game, Taylor got emotional while talking about how important it was to have her father at the Alamodome. His trip will have to be extended, too.
"He booked a plane ticket for Friday, but I mean obviously we're going to continue to go dancing," Taylor said. "He's probably going to stay and watch me."
Texas was up 35-14 at halftime, with 10 of the Bruins' points coming from Michaela Onyenwere, their All-American forward. UCLA was just 6-for-28 from the field, and after ranking 13th nationally by averaging only 11.9 turnovers, the Bruins had eight by halftime.
"We were all in the passing lanes; we were stealing and recovering and helping each other out, boxing out, trying to rebound," Taylor said of the defensive effort.
Texas was fueled by a 12-0 run in the first half that featured points from five different Longhorns. UT took control of the game despite getting limited first-half production from Collier and Warren, who had combined for 42 points in the team's tournament opener against Bradley.
In the first half, Collier attempted only two shots as UCLA shifted its defensive focus to the 6-5 All-American. Warren played a scoreless 10 minutes and exited after she bit her tongue during a collision with Onyenwere.
Nonetheless, Texas entered halftime with its biggest lead since it was up 32 points against Idaho on Dec. 9. In that game, Texas also held Idaho to 14 first-half points.
"Credit to Texas. They did a really good job making timely shots, and they really kept us out of what we wanted to do in that first half and just put us in a situation to where we were chasing," UCLA coach Cori Close said.
Tip-ins: Collier finished with five points and five rebounds. She did not play after she was called for her fourth foul with 6:56 left in the game. ... Warren cleared her concussion protocol tests and played 12 minutes in the second half. ... Onyenwere scored 21 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. ... This is the 16th time that Texas has reached the Sweet 16 in its storied history. The Longhorns were never seeded lower than fifth for any of their previous 15 trips.