Texas comeback knocks UCLA from the Bridgeport Regional, 72-64, Longhorns head to Elite Eight
— Texas Women's Basketball (@TexasWBB) March 26, 2016
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Last year Texas played Connecticut on the East Coast in the Sweet 16 and suffered a heartbreaking loss after their deepest run in the NCAA tournament in 11 years. This year they will meet the Huskies in the Elite Eight, going a step further, after earning a comeback victory over UCLA 72-64 in their first game of the Bridgeport Regional.
“I think we’re extremely excited to be playing another day,” said Texas head coach Karen Aston after defeating the talented Bruins. “Our team has just impressed me all year long with their ability to be resilient. And this was a perfect example of really how we have been all year long. Every time we had a set back, I thought we were really terrific at being able to reset and go to the next day. And that was kind of what the game was like.”
Texas had the size, led by 6-7 center Imani Boyette, but UCLA used their quicker posts, especially 6-4 Monique Billings to attack the basket early. Both Boyette and her backup, 6-5 Kelsey Lang picked up two first half fouls each.
However, Boyette managed to continue to be effective even with foul trouble, a sign of how she has matured during her college career.
“I think a lot of it for Imani is it’s just an evolution of her mindset,” said Aston. “She’s matured, as our whole team has, and she’s — I think all year long, she said she’s learned some lessons throughout conference play. But I really believe all year long, she’s had a much more level of maturity as far as handling foul trouble and knowing when to back off a little bit and give a player some space, when to let it go. She did go through one little span that she had to think about that, she was getting fouls early because people were going right at her. And she probably did learn some discipline lessons with that.”
Billings hit 7-of-8 first half foul shot attempts on her way to eleven points and nine rebounds in the half.
Despite the Texas size advantage, UCLA outrebounded the Longhorns 33-28 in the half. Texas 5-4 guard Brooke McCarty was her team’s leading rebounder.
Both teams seemed more at ease to start the second half, with each team making runs. Texas tied the game on a McCarty three-pointer three minutes in and they took the lead less than a minute later on two foul shots by Ariel Atkins.
UCLA did not back down though, continuing to drive the ball to the basket, drawing fouls and going to the line. ten times in the quarter. When Jordin Canada hit a fade away jumper at the third quarter horn, UCLA still led 54-48.
However, the Longhorns opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to take the lead, as UCLA missed seven shots in a row before Billings ended the run with a putback.
Lashann Higgs came off the bench to energize the Texas defense on Canada, disrupting UCLA, and the Bruins went cold, being outscored by Texas in the quarter. The Texas size took control, with Boyette erasing UCLA misses.
Boyette led the Longhorns with 17 points, ten in the second half. Atkins scored 16, and McCarty had 15. Boyette also pulled down ten rebounds, nine in the second half. Despite their foul troubles, UCLA shot twelve more foul shots than Texas, no one fouled out for Texas.
Billngs finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds for UCLA, while Canada had 20. The Bruins missed their last nine shots in the game.
Texas will play UConn in Monday night’s Elite Eight matchup. The Huskies demolished Mississippi State earlier in the day, 98-38, beginning the game on a 13-0 run. Aston addressed what Texas could do to stop UConn.
“Well, it’s definitely easier said than done….But their runs are tough,” she said. “Obviously, with the crowd being what it is, they feed off of it, but they’re also very capable, because you don’t have someone on their team that you can pinpoint. I think that’s what makes them so good is that every player on their team is explosive, every player is terrific offensively.”
Patience on shot selection could help the Longhorns.
“You really have to have some patience….If you shoot quick, a lot of times in a row, then you’re probably going to get sucked in,” continued Aston. “And we did that last year. So I hope that we can maybe reflect a little bit on shot selection last year. But again, they force you into shots that are bad because they’re so long.”