Ariel Atkins jogged onto the court at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday determined to survive.
For four years the senior guard had given the Texas program everything she had. Now she found herself in what could be the final chapter of her collegiate career, taking on 15-seeded Maine in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday would not be the end, though, as Atkins willed the Longhorns to a statement 83-54 win in a game that was over from the jump.
“I was very pleased with how we started the game,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “I thought that our team was very locked in. We paid attention to detail, shot the ball well and did a lot of things really sharply.”
DAILY TEXAN SPORTS LIVE POSTGAME SHOW: Texas vs. Maine https://t.co/N6P1JBcfpW— Daily Texan Sports (@texansports) March 18, 2018
Atkins set the tone in the opening quarter, sinking an uncontested three from the corner on Texas’ first possession. It took just two minutes for her to get the ball behind the arc again — this time drilling the long-range bomb right in front of an outstretched Maine defender.
But Atkins wasn’t finished. The Duncanville, Texas, native soared to the rim among the bigs with 4:34 left, snagging an offensive rebound and converting on the easy putback to give Texas a 14-6 lead.
Maine head coach Amy Vachon burned the Black Bears’ first timeout shortly afterward, desperate to get her team back on track.
It didn’t work. The Longhorns closed the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a commanding 23-8 lead.
“We definitely knew that we needed to be focused,” Atkins said. “We knew what (Maine) was capable of doing, so that was important for us (early on).”
Texas fed off Atkins’ intensity, opening up a 56-24 lead by the midway point of the third quarter. Atkins kept attacking, pulling up on a fastbreak and draining a shot from the free throw line.
The senior called for the ball once again on the following possession, drifting to the corner and hitting on a mid-range jumper to give the Longhorns a 60-26 advantage with 4:44 to go in the third.
Atkins’ night came to a close with 4:53 left in the fourth quarter as Aston subbed out her starters. The Longhorns finished the game with ease.
Atkins totaled 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the victory. Junior forward Jatarie White also had a strong outing, posting a game-high 17 points in 20 minutes.
The win is a strong start to the tournament for a Texas team that enters the postseason clicking on all cylinders.
“We definitely are playing as more of a team,” junior guard Lashann Higgs said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on throughout the season. It’s been a fun year.”
The road to Texas’ first Final Four appearance since 2003 continues on Monday as the Longhorns host 7-seeded Arizona State at 8 p.m. The Sun Devils enter the second round matchup fresh off a 73-62 victory over 10-seeded Nebraska on Saturday.
Although the game will mark Atkins’ final outing in front of the fans at the Frank Erwin Center, the senior hopes it won’t be her last time in burnt orange.
All she has to do is survive.
“They’ve been the best fans that I’ve ever been around,” Atkins said. “I’m just so thankful for this program and everything it’s done for me.”