The Longhorns have been a team of firsts this year.
Texas compiled 15 wins in conference play and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, accomplishing both feats for the first time since 2003 — a year that saw Texas reach the Final Four.
But the first half of the Longhorns’ first round matchup in this year’s tournament didn’t live up to the record-setting standard Texas has set for itself this season. The Longhorns shot 34 percent in the first half but eventually used a 26-point third quarter to pull away in the second half, beating Alabama State 86-42 in front of their usual Erwin Center fans Saturday night.
“I think it took us a half to sort of calm down from the excitement of playing,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I actually cut our shoot-around short today because I could tell we were extremely anxious.”
Texas relaxed in the second half. The Longhorns scored eleven straight points to start the third quarter, pushing their lead to 43-22.
“In the third quarter we collectively came together and basically told ourselves that we need to be disciplined, and we needed to get down and play our type of basketball,” sophomore guard Ariel Atkins said.
Atkins was one of four Longhorns to score in double figures, and she led the way with 15 points.
Texas outscored 15th seeded Alabama State 26-5 in the third quarter. The Longhorns shot 64.7 percent from the floor in the frame.
The home rims were friendly to sophomore guard Brooke McCarty, who had two of her shots hit the back of the iron, pop straight up and fall through the net.
Texas has the opportunity to take advantage of its home court one more time with a second straight Sweet 16 appearance on the line.
Tenth-seeded Missouri knocked out seventh-seeded BYU at the Erwin Center by a score of 78-69 to book its ticket to the second round before the Texas game tipped off.
The Tigers (21-9) won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2001, but they’ll have to be the only the second team all season to beat Texas on its home floor to win another.
“I think they’re a big team,” senior guard Empress Davenport said. “They play good defense and shoot a lot of threes. Guarding the transition threes will be a huge focus for us.”
The two teams go head to head at 8 p.m. Monday back at the Erwin Center.
Aston said that she is not going to get caught up in the Longhorns’ largest NCAA tournament win since 2003 because there’s still another game to play.
“I don’t think anybody cares, and I promise you Missouri doesn’t care how many points we won by,” Aston said. “But I do hope it sparks some interest in somebody getting in their car and coming down here Monday night.”