Texas’ perfect 18-for-18 foul-shooting performance, en route to a 79-61 win over 12th-seeded Penn (22-7, 12-2 Ivy League), proved that free throws can make the difference between winning and losing.
“Anytime you go 100 percent from the free-throw line is great,” sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford said at a press conference following Sunday’s game. “Every time they fouled us, we capitalized.”
Motivated by a drive to prolong its season, Texas rebounded from a first-half deficit to blow out the Quakers. McGee-Stafford led Texas with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 12 rebounds. She scored 15 of her points after the half.
“I don’t want to say I freaked about the score, but it was in my mind,” McGee-Stafford said. “I just wanted to come out and give my team what they deserved from me.”
The entire Texas team adopted this mentality, as each player stepped up and showed accountability in the comeback. The effort helped Texas grab its first NCAA Tournament win since 2008 and advance to the Round of 32. Against No. 11 Maryland (25-6, 12-4 ACC), the Longhorns (22-11, 11-7 Big 12) are the underdogs, as they have been throughout the two teams’ history. Maryland leads the all-time series 3-1 and beat Texas in the teams’ only other NCAA Tournament matchup.
But that 79-71 Terp victory was in 1989. No current player on either team was even born yet, so Texas must take advantage of its newfound drive and a fresh start if it wants to advance to the regionals for the first time in a decade.
“Our team is really fortunate to have won the game [against Penn],” head coach Karen Aston said at a press conference following Sunday’s game. “It’s huge. Everything that we set forth to do this year, we have checked off. One of those was obviously to make it to the tournament, and we accomplished that. The next one was to win a game. That was a step I feel like this program needed to take.”
With all initial goals checked off, Texas has nothing to lose — and no reason to slow down. It must capitalize on its strengths, as it did from the free-throw line Sunday, but also realize it’s not playing a pushover. While the Longhorns boast a .365 3-point shooting average for the season, the Terps just barely trump them at .366. Texas’ 14.8 assists per game are its most this millennium, but Maryland posted a superior 19.6 average on the season. Even the Longhorns’ +11.7 rebounding margin, which puts them fifth in the nation, trails Maryland’s +12.2 margin.
Texas will have its hands full Tuesday night at 6 p.m. CST, as it plays in College Park, Md., which is home court for the Terps.
“I think we learned that we just have to stick together through everything,” senior guard Chassidy Fussell said at a press conference Monday. “We are going against the team and the fans that are yelling at us; we just have to communicate and stick together.”