Texas starts cold, quickly heats up in 73-55 victory

Tyler Horka

Texas entered its second-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, knowing that it needed to keep Missouri’s shooters in check to win and advance to the Sweet 16.

Three minutes into the game, the Tigers’ leading scorer, freshman guard Sophie Cunningham, had already nailed two threes to give Missouri a 6-0 lead.

But what appeared to be a turning into a Missouri shooting clinic was abruptly halted. Texas went on a 17-3 run to close the first quarter and never looked back, winning 73-55 on Monday night in the final game to be played at the Erwin Center this season.

“Tonight was a team you that love to coach,” head coach Karen Aston said. “They played free, and they played about as hard as they could play.”

Cunningham continued to knock down shots for the Tigers. She led all scorers with 23 points, but Missouri shot just 31 percent from the floor as a team while the Longhorns shot 41 percent.

Texas missed its first seven shots but would make eight of its next 16 to jump ahead of the Tigers 17-9 by the end of the first quarter.

Freshman guard Lashann Higgs started the scoring early in the second quarter. Higgs scored two quick buckets and added an assist on a spin move in the paint to give Texas a 23-14 lead less than two minutes into the quarter.

“As I was coming off the bench, I just had to remind myself that when your number is being called, always be ready,” Higgs said. “My number was called. I felt like I was ready.”

Higgs wasn’t done. She stripped the ball away from a Missouri player in the Longhorns’ offensive end to get possession back for Texas. The steal led to a three by senior guard Celina Rodrigo that stretched the Longhorn lead to 26-14.

Sophomore guard Ariel Atkins and Higgs were the only Longhorns to score in double figures, with 22 points and 11 points, respectively. Atkins has led Texas in scoring in both tournament games thus far.

The win gives Texas 30 wins in one season for the first time since 2004, but the season isn’t over. The Longhorns travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut to compete in the Sweet 16 for the second-straight season. Texas will face No. 3 UCLA on March 26.

“I just can’t say enough about how proud I am of this basketball team,” Aston said. “I’m really excited to be in the Sweet 16. I’m excited for our team and looking forward to moving on.”