For the fourth time in as many years, Texas has failed to advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The ninth-seeded Longhorns lost their first game of the tournament, 68-55, at the hands of the eighth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, VA on Saturday. The Longhorns have now lost five straight NCAA tournament games and have failed to advance past the opening round of the tournament since the 2007-2008 season.
Despite digging themselves a huge hole in the first half, Texas refused to go away. After trailing by thirteen at half, the Longhorns slowly worked themselves back into the game and used a 9-0 run midway through the second half to pull within three points of the Mountaineers.
“We started rebounding and we changed our defense up,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “We were able to get some defensive rebounds which ignited our transition game and got us on a bit of a run.”
But it was too little, too late for Texas.
With just under four minutes to play, West Virginia’s Taylor Palmer hit a clutch three to end the Longhorn run and move the Mountaineers lead back up to six points.
“Taylor Palmer is our shooter,” said West Virginia head coach Mike Carey. “She took 16 shots and only played 25 minutes. That is what she does though; she is a great player and she hit a really big shot for us.”
Palmer, who came off the bench for the Mountaineers, had 12 of her game-high 18 points from behind the arc. The sophomore guard also pulled down five rebounds and had three assists on the afternoon.
The Longhorns, who have struggled with slow starts all season long, had their worst first half of the season on Saturday, scoring just 18 points in the opening frame.
“We had just five defensive rebounds at halftime,” Goestenkors said. “We’re not going to beat anybody with five defensive rebounds; we rely on defensive rebounding to get our transition game going.”
Poor rebounding wasn’t the Longhorns’ only problem on the afternoon. Texas had one of its worst shooting performances of the season, converting on just 27.9 percent of it’s field goals. Aside from senior Ashley Gayle, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds to earn just her second double-double of the season, not a single Longhorn player shot better than 50 percent from the field.
Texas’ backcourt trio of Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and Chassidy Fussell struggled to get anything going. Anderson was a team-worst two of 13 from the field while Fontenette made just four of her 15 field goal attempts. Fussell, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, had just eight points in the game. The sophomore made only three field goals and failed to get to the free-throw line.
“The main goal was to deny her (Fussell) from getting the ball,” said Jess Harlee, who guarded Fussell most of the game. ”I just had to focus on staying out on her and not letting her catch the ball.”
The Longhorns will now begin their off-season as they hope to improve on this year’s disappointing finish. It will be up to the likes of Fussell, Cokie Reed and Chelsea Bass to lead next year’s squad as Anderson, Fontenette and Gayle will all be graduating in May.