Even as No. 6 Texas began to pull away during a 73-55 victory at the WVU Coliseum on Monday night, the Mountaineers refused to slow down.
After surrendering seven unanswered Texas points to start the game, West Virginia freshman guard Ashley Jones and senior forward Teana Muldrow hit back-to-back threes to cut the deficit down to one point with 6:33 left in the first quarter.
The Mountaineers started to fly up and down the floor and whip the ball all over the court. It was similar to the Longhorns’ style of play — tight defense leading to fast breaks and easy transition points.
West Virginia’s resilience stunned Texas at first. The Longhorns weren’t used to their opponents keeping up with them, but by the end of the first quarter, Texas trailed 19-18.
“It was an interesting game,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “As physical as we both play defense, nobody shot free throws hardly. That’s usually interesting between us and West Virginia. It’s usually a blood bath.”
Aston countered by shifting Texas’ offensive focus inside. The Longhorns ran more plays through their posts and crashed the offensive boards to claim a 37-26 lead heading into the half.
“I think the first half, there was a lot of attention paid to our guards,” Aston said. “I told them at halftime that we only had four offensive rebounds, and I think that (senior forward) Audrey(-Ann Caron-Goudreau) had all of them. So, that must have motivated (junior forward) Jatarie (White).”
Midway through the third quarter, junior guard Lashann Higgs nuzzled past her defender and stormed toward the rim. White’s defender slid to cut her off. Higgs took an extra dribble, then wrapped around the help defense to find White wide open. White scored despite being fouled and converted the and-one free throw.
White asserted herself in the third quarter, erupting for nine points and four rebounds.
But West Virginia kept shooting.
The Mountaineers made 50 percent of their outside shots and finished the night making more threes than two-pointers. The hot shooting allowed them to stay within arm’s reach of the lead for the majority of the game. Entering the fourth quarter, West Virginia trailed by just 10 points.
“We let them shoot threes all night long,” Aston said. “But that’s what they do — they do it really well. We’ll go back and look at film and see where we could’ve been a little bit better in that area because obviously 10 threes is too many.”
The Longhorns leaned on their seniors to hold West Virginia off.
Senior guard Ariel Atkins had just four points through the first three quarters. Late in the fourth, she tipped a pass from Muldrow and hustled to keep the ball inbounds. She reached it just before stepping on the sideline, twirled and found fellow senior guard Brooke McCarty streaking up the floor for the easy finish.
The pair closed the game out on a 9-0 run, assisting or scoring on every basket.
“I kind of just picked up my energy on defense and started feeding off the energy from my teammates,” Atkins said. “They didn’t get down on me. They kept me energized. They told me to keep playing. They told me to do the best I could on defense, and once I kind of amped up and I looked in their eyes, they kept believing in me, kept the energy up. I didn’t have a choice but to play.”
Atkins finished the game with 17 points, including 13 in the final quarter. White finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Texas (19–4, 10–2 Big 12) has played three games in six days. The Longhorns will get some much-needed rest before hosting Kansas State (12–11, 4–8 Big 12) at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday. Still, Atkins knows there’s no time to waste.
“There’s work to be done,” Atkins said. “My focus is my team. This is my last year, this is my last chance to really give them what I’ve got. And I want to give everything I have left in my tank to my college career.”