Women’s basketball rolls over UCLA, 71-62, advances to face Maryland

25 Mar By
Guard Celeste Taylor scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Texas women's basketball team to a 71-62 win over UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio (photo by Ben Solomon / NCAA Photos).

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Texas forward Audrey Warren was knocked down hard more than a few times Wednesday night, but in a microcosm of the attitude shown from the entire Texas women's basketball team, responded with a level of determination that UCLA had no chance of countering.

The No. 6-seeded Longhorns advanced to the program's 16th Sweet Sixteen by defeating the third-seeded Bruins, 71-62, inside the Alamodome in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Texas clinched the final spot in the round of 16 and will face No. 2 seed Maryland at 8 p.m. Sunday. The Terrapins defeated No. 7 seed Alabama 100-64 Wednesday.

"Those kids have a lot of confidence," Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said after the game. "That has taken a little while to instill because we've had some rough patches. It's so hard to do what we've had to do in the circumstances that we've had to do it in.

"All I know is to win. Let me know who's the next opponent and let's go try to beat them."

Texas guard Celeste Taylor was the sparkplug of the offense, scoring the Longhorns' first points of the game on a driving layup 32 seconds into the contest, and never looked back. The sophomore, playing in her second NCAA Tournament game, led the team with 25 points.

"I know I'm a shooter, I know the work that I put in, I know what I can do," Taylor said. "My teammates have my back at all times, and they keep telling me to shoot the ball, no matter what. At the end of the day, my teammates have my back, and as long as somebody steps up, I'm here for them. We're all here for each other."

Taylor seemed to feed off the performance of Warren, arguably Texas' most physical player, took an elbow to the chin on the baseline midway through the second quarter. She collapsed on the floor and was taken to the locker room, but walked from the tunnel smiling in the third quarter, and returned to the floor shortly thereafter. She was knocked to the floor twice more as the second half wound down, yet continued to get up and battle, a quality Schaefer saw in his entire team.

"Today was about toughness, it was about resilience," Schaefer said. "It was a humility piece that we talked about. I felt like we'd come out ready to play and we did."

Texas established an early lead 13-8 lead at the end of the opening quarter, finishing the period on a 5-0 scoring run highlighted by a long three-pointer by guard Joanne Allen-Taylor with 1:05 to play.

The Horns held the Bruins to just 14 total points in the first half, playing hard-nosed defense and forcing UCLA to shoot just 6-of-28 from the field in the first two quarters.

"To come out in the NCAA Tournament and hold a team to 14 points," Schaefer said, "our kids played their guts out on that end. Defense is the last piece that comes together for a team and obviously ours is coming. I couldn't be more proud of them because of their toughness, their resilience, their competitive spirit. That's what it takes. If you're going to get this far and do this, you got to be that way or you're going to get run out of town."

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The Longhorns UCLA 22-6 in the second quarter, concluding the period on an impressive 12-4 run, as forward Lauren Ebo used her size to dominate in the paint.

"Lauren is a good player, and she's going to be great for us," Schaefer said. "I love how she plays. She reminds me so much of a player in the Big 12 that played at OU a few years ago that was just a monster. She was a great one. You can't move [Lauren], and she's got a nose for the ball."

UCLA came out firing after halftime, but failed to overcome the deficit and salvage the game. There was nothing the Bruins could do, especially after star Michaela Onyenwere fouled out midway through the fourth quarter following a 23-point outing in the final game of her decorated collegiate career. The closest UCLA got came was with 56 seconds to play, as Emily Bessoir converted a second-chance layup to make the score 65-57.

"[UCLA] was going to make a run — we talked about that," Schaefer said. "They did. We were resilient, we fought back, we wouldn't give in."

However, Texas point guard Kyra Lambert, playing in her home city of San Antonio, was automatic from the free-throw line and swished four straight attempts from the charity stripe as UCLA desperately tried to gain possession. Lambert finished the night with a double-double, playing all 40 minutes and scoring 17 points with exactly 10 rebounds.

"Kyra played in a completely different system for five years and had some grueling injuries that she had to overcome," Schaefer said. "So to see what she's doing, leading this team ... I couldn't be more proud of her."

As the final buzzer sounded throughout the spacious arena, Schaefer dropped to his knees in what he said after the game was an act of thanks. Relief was evident in his face as his squad celebrated in front of the bench.

"It was a moment for me to say 'thank you,'" Schaefer said, "to thank God for the day, for the opportunity to coach these kids, to continue to demand of them, to teach them, to mold them."

The Longhorns lack depth, experience and size, but made up for it with toughness, according to Schaefer. It is something that will be critical against a Maryland team that has averaged 99 points per game in this NCAA Tournament.

"What this team is doing is what we were hired to do at Texas, and that's getting back to playing a style of play and a brand that Texas deserves," Schaefer said. "This is how we coach, this is how our teams play. What these kids are doing, they're laying the foundation for teams in the future. It's not what we do but how we do it that separates us from the rest of the country."

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley