Utes run into a Texas-sized buzzsaw, fall 78-56 to fired-up Longhorns in NCAA Tournament
Second-seeded Texas pulls away from seventh-seeded Utah in second quarter, advances to Sweet 16 with convincing win in final game at Erwin Center in Austin
AUSTIN, Texas — Much was made the past few days of how the University of Utah’s women’s basketball team would have to deal with the No. 2 seeded Texas Longhorns’ homecourt advantage if the Utes hoped to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Someone forgot to worry about the actual Longhorns themselves.
In what UT coach Vic Schaefer called No. 6-ranked Texas’ best offensive outing of the season, the Longhorns buried the upset-minded Utes 78-56 in a Round of 32 game at the soon-to-be demolished Frank Erwin Center in front of more than 4,500 satisfied Texas fans and a few hundred disappointed Utah fans.
“I told (the Utes) afterwards that they should be upset. They should be disappointed. But time will give perspective on what we achieved this year, and I am excited to see what we can do in the future.” — Utah basketball coach Lynne Roberts
“That’s about as good as we’ve played offensively in quite a while,” Schaefer said. “… We played better than we played against Baylor, and we played really, really good against Baylor (in the Big 12 Tournament).”
Simply put, it wouldn’t have mattered if this game had been played on Venus, Mars or perhaps even the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Texas flexed its considerable muscle on the upstart Utes, overpowering coach Lynne Roberts’ team inside the paint and with its pressure-oriented defense.
“I thought Texas played just incredibly well,” Roberts said. “I’ve watched so much film ... and that’s the best I’ve seen them shoot, at least in the games I saw.”
Texas saved its best for last in the 45-year-old building referred to as “The Drum.” The Big 12 champion Horns shot a season-high 64% from the field in improving to 28-6 and winning their 13th straight game.
“They were really, really good,” Roberts said. “And if they shoot the ball like that, the way they defend, they’re going to be really hard for anyone to beat.”
Still, Utah’s seventh-year coach stopped short of saying Texas can handle defending national champion Stanford, the team that beat the Utes three times this season, including in the Pac-12 championship game two weeks ago. The Horns and Cardinal are on a collision course in the Spokane Regional.
“My hypothetical money is on Stanford, just because they’re Pac-12,” Roberts said.
That after her plucky squad took a Texas-sized beatdown, thanks to the second and third quarters in which the Utes were outscored 45-25. Aside from committing 19 turnovers in the face of a ferocious Texas press, the Utes didn’t play that poorly.
They shot 51% from the floor, which is going to win a lot of games. But not when the other team is blistering the nets at a record pace. At one juncture of the game the Horns had made 16 straight shots and were shooting 76% from the field.
“I told (the Utes) afterwards that they should be upset,” Roberts said. “They should be disappointed. But time will give perspective on what we achieved this year, and I am excited to see what we can do in the future.”
Sophomore guard Kennady McQueen led Utah with 18 points, backing up the 20 points she scored in Friday’s 92-69 win over Arkansas. Were there an all-subregional team, McQueen would be on it. She didn’t get much help, however.
Freshman Jenna Johnson added 14 points and senior Dru Gylten had five assists in what was probably her final game as a Ute. Freshman Gianna Kneepkens, the Utes’ leading scorer, was held to four points on 2 of 7 shooting.
“I think as far as a team and playing a team like Texas, we for the most part played really well,” Gylten said. “And like coach Rob said, we are a very young team, and so I was so proud of how our team handled it and just kept fighting and never gave up until the end of the buzzer.”
Aaliyah Moore went 9 for 10 for 21 points to lead Texas. Aliyah Matharu was 6 for 7 for 14 points. The Horns actually shot better from the floor than they did from the free-throw line, where they were 5 of 10 and showed a bit of a weakness that might come back to haunt them when the quality of competition increases.
Not that the Utes didn’t test them for a bit. Texas led just 19-17 at the end of the first quarter.
Problem was, the Utes couldn’t stop Texas’ dribble penetration in the first half, and as a result fell behind 44-30 at the break. The Longhorns shot 71% (20 of 28) in the first half, opening with a barrage of pull-up jumpers and then closing the half with layup after layup.
Moore had 14 first-half points for Texas, all of them inside or from the free-throw line.
The Utes handled Texas’ vaunted pressure defense reasonably well in the first quarter, committing just one turnover (on an offensive foul). Texas opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run, as Utah had seven straight empty possessions and lost contact.
“Man, they made shots,” Roberts marveled.
Said Matharu: “Punch first. That’s always our motto. Punch first.”
Roberts lamented the Utes’ three consecutive turnovers in the first quarter when the game was tight, and also mentioned a 50-50 call that went Texas’ way midway through the second quarter that helped the Horns extend a 29-23 lead to 36-23 before the Utes could recover.
Texas made six straight shots to open the third quarter — extending the makes streak to 16 — before Joanne Allen-Taylor missed an open 3-pointer. The burst put the Horns ahead 60-34 and the crowd was at a fever pitch.
Schaefer said he “hadn’t slept in two nights” worrying about how to guard the 3-point loving Utes (21-12), but it turns out Utah experienced the nightmare.
“At the end of the day our pressure usually wears on you a little bit, and I thought it did today,” said Schaefer, who always ends his news conferences by saying, “praise the Lord, and go Longhorns.”
McQueen and Ines Vieira hit 3-pointers at the start of the fourth quarter for the Utes, but by then it was too little, too late.
And Texas kept burning the nets, draining jumper after jumper, layup after layup, in an impressive display of power the Utes haven’t seen since they lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.
When they say everything is bigger in Texas, this is what they must mean. A team whose best shooting night before Sunday was 61% in its opener against New Orleans and averaged 43% all season came up big when it mattered most.
“Some of it was missed assignments. We had a good game plan, but it’s a tough place to play,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of people, and sometimes things can snowball a little bit. I’ve been on the other side of those runs, and the rim just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Everybody in the crowd gets into it and everybody is just feeling it.”
The Utes were able to win a couple games at the Pac-12 tournament and the Arkansas game without starting center Peyton McFarland, out with a lower leg injury, but she was sorely missed Sunday.
“I think we have to give props to Texas,” Gylten said. “They played such a great game today and they’re very athletic. They know how to play well as a team.”