With four players scoring double digits and the Longhorns shooting nearly 48 percent all game, No. 5-seeded Texas hung on in the final minutes to defeat No. 4 seed California, 73–70, on Sunday.
Texas stuck with its experienced lineup in its second-round game in the NCAA Tournament in Berkeley, California.
Similar to its first round matchup against Western Kentucky, Texas struggled with turnovers early. The Longhorns’ 11 first-half turnovers kept the game close throughout the first half.
Tied at 27 at the break, Texas came out of halftime on a 6–0 run. It led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but California began to cut into its deficit, scoring key field goals and making seven 3-pointers.
“[When we have trouble], we talk about attacking the basket, not standing around the 3-point line and not turning the ball over,” junior guard Empress Davenport said. “That is just a conversation we have between the guards.”
The team eventually started to limit its turnovers, only giving up the ball three times in the final 20 minutes. The Longhorns shot 50 percent in the final stanza and made 10-of-12 free- throw attempts to capture the victory.
Freshman guard Brooke McCarty played only 17 minutes but hit crucial late free throws, just as she did in the first-round game, to seal the win for Texas. Outside of her strong performance from the charity stripe, McCarty shot 5-of-7 from the field and combined for 16 points with two steals.
Junior center Imani McGee-Stafford, who has struggled this season due to injuries, captured her second consecutive double-double performance in this year’s NCAA Tournament with 20 points and 11 boards. After limited playing time during the regular season, she has been a focal point of Texas’ postseason play.
“This has been a really long season,” McGee-Stafford said. “Coach has brought me along slow and make sure I got my legs back. All of [my] teammates have been really helpful, waiting for me to get everything back and trusting me when I was ready.”
With a slew of injuries and adversities this season, head coach Karen Aston focused on using her veteran players to help the Longhorns make a deep postseason run in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
“Because we have experience, we know what to expect when the NCAA Tournament comes,” Davenport said when the seeds were announced. “I think it’s just a feel for the game and when the freshmen and sophomores see us on the court, it just makes them more comfortable.”
The Longhorns now advance to their first Sweet 16 appearance since the 2003-2004 season, when current Longhorns head coach Karen Aston was then an assistant coach for the team. They play either top-seeded UConn or No. 8 Rutgers on Saturday in Albany, New York.