AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The message on the whiteboard in the Texas locker was simple and direct: Rebound!
The No. 2 seed Longhorns did that and a whole lot more - just about anything they wanted to, really - in dismantling No. 15 Maine 83-54 in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Jatarie White scored 17 points and the Longhorns overwhelmed the Black Bears early in bolting to a 45-18 lead by halftime. The Big 12 runners-up smothered the America East Conference tournament champions Saturday night with a combination of dominant rebounding and speed in transition led by guards Lashann Higgs and Brooke McCarty. Higgs scored 15 and Ariel Atkins scored 16 for Texas.
“We were really locked in,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “It didn’t surprise me that we were ready, but we were pretty sharp.”
Texas used brute force and scalpel-like precision to quickly end this one.
The Longhorns (27-6) didn’t let Maine (23-10) grab a rebound for the first eight minutes. Higgs had 11 points and Atkins scored 10 by halftime as the Longhorns emptied their bench early in the second quarter. Texas shot 68 percent and outrebounded Maine 25-4 in the first half.
Atkins, Higgs and White had their pick of shots near the basket or on 3-pointers. By midway through the third quarter, those three combined for 16 of 20 shooting.
The Longhorns are hosting the first two rounds for the third straight season and advanced to the second round for the fifth straight year. Another win would send them to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
Tanesha Sutton scored 16 points for Maine, which hadn’t been to the tournament since 2004.
“It frustrating when you had a good possession and you played good defense then they finally miss a shot and they get the offensive rebound and put it in. That seemed to be the story,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said.
Maine: Maine starts four foreign-born players but ran into a problem that translates to any basketball court in the country: Texas was just too big and too fast at every position. But the Black Bears start three sophomores, a freshman and a junior and will expect to be one of the favorites from their conference to return to the tournament with more experience next year.
“They (Texas) are very big. We’re not used to playing that type of athleticism in our conference. I think maybe it took us several minutes to adjust,” Maine guard Julie Brosseau said.
Texas: With guards taller than half the Black Bears’ starting lineup, the Longhorns really weren’t tested anywhere on the court. That won’t be the case when Texas faces No. 7 seed Arizona State in Monday’s second round when the Longhorn’s front court will face a lineup as big and athletic as they are under the basket.
“Every team from now on we have to respect what they do. They are definitely a physical team,” Higgs said of the Sun Devils.
Texas still has a tendency to kick the ball around and had 20 turnovers, although many of them came in the second half as the Longhorns had the game well in hand.
Texas got a special halftime visit from Texas men’s player Andrew Jones, who has been undergoing leukemia treatments since early January missed the second half of the season. Aston led him into the locker room, then gave all the players time to talk while she stepped out.
“Some things are bigger than basketball. Some of these girls are really good friends with him and care deeply about him. I could hear a lot of laughing and good times,” Aston said. “It was good to have him around. He looks great.”
Texas plays Monday night against Arizona State, which advanced with a 73-62 win over Nebraska on Saturday.
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