Jatarie White

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Ariel Atkins gave her all to the Longhorns’ program, even down to the last second.

The senior guard walked off the court of the Sprint Center after Friday’s season-ending loss to 3-seeded UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, knowing it was the last time she’d don the burnt orange and white she’d worn with such pride over the past four years.

The journey concluded as Texas fell, 84-75, in a game that was an uphill battle the whole way through.

The Bruins outplayed the Longhorns from the opening tip, employing a full-court press that forced seven Texas turnovers in the first quarter. Even when they could break the press, the Longhorns couldn’t buy a basket as they shot an abysmal 5-for-16. UCLA capitalized on the sluggish start, claiming a 19-11 lead at the end of the first.

“We were a little uncharacteristic with the basketball,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “We just had inopportune turnovers, obviously way too many, (early on). You have to give UCLA a lot of credit.”

That lead ballooned to 11 for the Bruins in the second quarter with 3:28 remaining. Every attempt by Texas to chip away at the lead was answered by a UCLA run as the Bruins took a 39-31 advantage into the half.

Texas retreated to its locker room, just two quarters away from seeing its season come to an abrupt end. But Atkins held her head high as she prepared to come back out for the start of the second half.

She wasn’t going down without a fight.

Atkins set the tone in the third quarter, starting it off with a corner three that ignited the Longhorn bench. The senior guard then delivered on the defensive end, stealing the ball and dishing a no-look assist to junior forward Jatarie White on the fastbreak.

Texas rallied behind its senior leader, igniting a 14-3 run to claim a 45-42 lead with 6:50 remaining in the third — its first lead of the game.

“Our message at halftime was to stick to our game,” Atkins said. “We hadn’t played our type of basketball in the first half, but I feel like in the third quarter we found a flow.”

But UCLA held its composure, responding with a back-breaking 17-4 run to take a commanding 59-49 lead entering the final quarter of play.

Desperate to keep her season — and her career — alive, Atkins kept fighting.

The 5-foot-11 guard kicked off the final quarter by sinking a contested layup, trimming the lead to eight. She found her way into the paint once more on the following possession, snagging an offensive board and finishing from close range.

Once again the Bruins didn’t budge, extending the lead back to double digits thanks to UCLA’s Jordin Canada. The Longhorns had no answer for the senior guard as she torched Texas for 20 points in the second half.

“In the second half, (Canada) just decided to take over,” senior guard Brooke McCarty said. “When she gets going, it’s going to be a tough matchup. She really managed the game well.”

With just eight seconds remaining in the game, UCLA secured the final rebound and began to dribble the clock out. Atkins full-court pressed until the buzzer sounded.

Atkins totaled 11 points in the final quarter, finishing with a team-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds in the loss.

The heartbreaking defeat marked the final chapter for a player who led the Longhorns to four straight Sweet 16 appearances, establishing a standard for the program for years to come.

“I’m extremely blessed to have had this opportunity,” Atkins said. “God opened up a lot of doors for me since I’ve been here. Now the stage is set for our younger players to take off. They know what they need to do.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

No. 2-seeded Texas cruised to an 83-54 victory over No. 15-seeded Maine on Saturday evening in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With the win, the Longhorns will take on No. 7-seeded Arizona State on Monday at 8 p.m.

Here are four takeaways from Saturday’s game:

Longhorns box out

Texas used every inch of its reach advantage to build a 43-12 advantage on the boards. Maine never grabbed more than two rebounds in a single quarter.

Sophomore guard Blanca Millan secured the first board of the game for the Black Bears at the 2:17 mark in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter, sophomore forward Joyner Holmes had more rebounds (five) than Maine’s entire team (two).

Texas head coach Karen Aston emphasized to her team before the game how important winning the rebounding battle would be.

“That was one of the things that we actually had on the (team’s) board,” junior guard Lashann Higgs said. “It was like ‘rebound,’ with an exclamation mark, so we knew exactly what we tried to do was rebound.”

Brooke McCarty takes it easy

Brooke McCarty tied with Holmes for a team-high seven rebounds. But she didn’t show the same aggression on offense.

The senior guard didn’t take a shot until late in the second quarter. McCarty knocked down a trey off a dime from junior forward Olamide Aborowa with four seconds left in the half. She didn’t take her next shot until the 7:47 mark in the fourth quarter.

McCarty finished the game with seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and two assists. Aston was still pleased with the point guard’s performance, especially on the boards.

“I love point guards that rebound,” Aston said. “She's discovered ways to maneuver and pick up the loose ones when people box out. But I do love point guards that rebound, because we like to transition and it obviously starts your transition game if your point guard already has the ball in her hands.”

Ariel Atkins is made for March

Senior guard Ariel Atkins had much more success on offense. She hunted for open looks and knocked them down at every turn. She drained a triple from the right corner in Texas’ first possession of the game and never looked back.

Atkins finished the game with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep. She was just as effective in everything else, racking up four rebounds, four assists and two steals. She hopes the performance carries over moving forward in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it gives us a good amount of confidence,” Atkins said. “I think the confidence comes from knowing what we did. We focused on their tendencies and what they did well. And I think we actually used our preparation and listened to our coaches and we stuck with the game plan. I think that's where the confidence comes from.”

So much for trimming the rotation

Aston knows she’ll need to cut down on her bench minutes at some point during the NCAA Tournament. But as long as her team can build a lead, as it did against Maine, she’s happy to give her starters a rest.

“We were able, luckily, in the Big 12 Tournament to play a lot of people because we did have a lead in both games where we were able to do that,” Aston said at Texas’ pregame press conference on Friday. “I mean, the rotation trims in tournament play. I think that's a realistic statement. I think the bigger key is just getting everybody prepared, even if it's a minute or two.”

Texas led 23-8 by the end of the first quarter, and Aston turned to her substitutes. The bench players combined for 128 minutes and 19 points. Each player was on the floor for at least 12 minutes.

“You just don't ever know when your number's going to get called in NCAA Tournament play,” Aston said after the game. “So I think it was very good for everyone to get some playing time and get their feet wet with the NCAA Tournament.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Ariel Atkins jogged onto the court at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday determined to survive.

For four years the senior guard had given the Texas program everything she had. Now she found herself in what could be the final chapter of her collegiate career, taking on 15-seeded Maine in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday would not be the end, though, as Atkins willed the Longhorns to a statement 83-54 win in a game that was over from the jump.

“I was very pleased with how we started the game,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “I thought that our team was very locked in. We paid attention to detail, shot the ball well and did a lot of things really sharply.”

Atkins set the tone in the opening quarter, sinking an uncontested three from the corner on Texas’ first possession. It took just two minutes for her to get the ball behind the arc again — this time drilling the long-range bomb right in front of an outstretched Maine defender.

But Atkins wasn’t finished. The Duncanville, Texas, native soared to the rim among the bigs with 4:34 left, snagging an offensive rebound and converting on the easy putback to give Texas a 14-6 lead.

Maine head coach Amy Vachon burned the Black Bears’ first timeout shortly afterward, desperate to get her team back on track.

It didn’t work. The Longhorns closed the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a commanding 23-8 lead.

“We definitely knew that we needed to be focused,” Atkins said. “We knew what (Maine) was capable of doing, so that was important for us (early on).”

Texas fed off Atkins’ intensity, opening up a 56-24 lead by the midway point of the third quarter. Atkins kept attacking, pulling up on a fastbreak and draining a shot from the free throw line.

The senior called for the ball once again on the following possession, drifting to the corner and hitting on a mid-range jumper to give the Longhorns a 60-26 advantage with 4:44 to go in the third.

Atkins’ night came to a close with 4:53 left in the fourth quarter as Aston subbed out her starters. The Longhorns finished the game with ease.

Atkins totaled 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the victory. Junior forward Jatarie White also had a strong outing, posting a game-high 17 points in 20 minutes.

The win is a strong start to the tournament for a Texas team that enters the postseason clicking on all cylinders.

“We definitely are playing as more of a team,” junior guard Lashann Higgs said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on throughout the season. It’s been a fun year.”

The road to Texas’ first Final Four appearance since 2003 continues on Monday as the Longhorns host 7-seeded Arizona State at 8 p.m. The Sun Devils enter the second round matchup fresh off a 73-62 victory over 10-seeded Nebraska on Saturday.

Although the game will mark Atkins’ final outing in front of the fans at the Frank Erwin Center, the senior hopes it won’t be her last time in burnt orange.

All she has to do is survive.

“They’ve been the best fans that I’ve ever been around,” Atkins said. “I’m just so thankful for this program and everything it’s done for me.”

Photo Credit: Jessica Joseph | Daily Texan Staff

Jatarie White went exploring.

The junior center typically roams the paint, scavenging inside for easy buckets no more than a step or two away from the rim. Texas Tech made them hard to come by early in No. 6 Texas’ 87-72 win over the Red Raiders on Wednesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.

Sophomore forward Joyner Holmes started in place of senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau, who was out with a bruised left wrist. Holmes doesn’t have the same outside touch as her injured counterpart.

White tried to share the interior with Holmes. But after fighting through double teams on her first two makes, White knew she needed to venture into mid-range territory.

With 4:45 remaining in the first quarter, White received a bounce pass from senior guard Ariel Atkins just above the free throw line and rose for a jumper. The ball rolled around, hung on the front of the rim for an eternity, then fell in. She hit another jumper from the left elbow, going 4-for-4 in the first quarter and scoring eight of Texas’ first 10 points. 

“I’ve been getting in the gym a little bit more with Coach Tina (Thompson) and working on my shooting form,” White said. “Also, noticing Coach (Aston) telling us that they were kind of closing in on the paint, flashing into the high post is just where I wanted to find the open space.”

The Longhorns still struggled. Texas couldn’t find the usual cracks in the defense without Caron-Goudreau’s floor spacing. The Red Raiders ended the quarter leading 19-16.

Texas head coach Karen Aston shook things up in the second quarter. She started sophomore wing Jada Underwood at the power forward spot to open things up on offense. It worked — but at a cost.

On Texas’ first possession, senior guard Brooke McCarty drove inside for an and-one layup and made the ensuing free throw. Texas Tech responded on the other end with a layup of its own.

The Red Raiders pummeled the Longhorns in the post. Underwood and Atkins were too small to contain Texas Tech’s 6-foot-4-inch senior center, Jada Terry, or 6-foot-6-inch sophomore center Erin Degrate. Terry and Degrate finished the half combining for 18 points.

“It’s frustrating as a player not being able to — kind of just giving up easy one-foot points,” White said.

Aston turned to 6-foot-3-inch freshman forward Rellah Boothe to plug the hole on defense. She thrived. Boothe was enough of a perimeter threat on offense to keep her defender from sagging off, and she had the size to slow down Texas Tech’s bigs on defense.

Boothe entered the game with 6:24 remaining in the half and Texas clinging to a three-point lead. Four different players scored on an 8-2 Texas run, including Boothe. The freshman came out a few possessions later at the 2:17 mark with the Longhorns leading 41-34. 

“Rellah played some valuable minutes,” Aston said. “When you have a night like tonight where people aren’t clicking as well as they typically do or you need to rest some players sometimes, things like that, that’s what a bench is about. I was very pleased.”

Texas went to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half, fortifying the paint and forcing more turnovers that led to transition baskets. McCarty pilfered the ball on back-to-back plays and racked up six points to cap off a 10-0 run by the Longhorns late in the third quarter. The Red Raiders trailed by double-digits the remainder of the game.

White finished with 11 points and one rebound. McCarty tallied 13 points, one rebound and one assist.

The Longhorns (21–4, 12–2 Big 12) will hit the road to take on No. 21 Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Saturday. Though Texas won its previous matchup with Oklahoma State at home by five points, White said the team can’t afford to lose its focus.

“I try not to think about the last game,” White said. “I try to think about what that team does and where they’re successful … Kind of knowing what they do already and not really focusing on how many points they score.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

In front of a crowd of over 11,000, the Huskies got hit in the mouth.

Early in the first quarter of No. 9 Texas’ 75-71 loss to No. 1 UConn on Monday night, junior wing Katie Lou Samuelson got smacked in the face with an elbow. The Huskies’ leading scorer buried her face in her hands and gingerly walked to the other side of the court at Frank Erwin Center.

The Longhorns were up 12-7 with 5:57 remaining. With Samuelson off the floor, Texas began to stifle the UConn offense and dropped bombs from distance. A midrange jumper from sophomore guard Alecia Sutton capped off a 10-5 run.

“I definitely thought we would show up because our preparation was good,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I thought they looked like a team that wanted to play differently than maybe they have been playing for a week or so.”

But UConn and Samuelson recovered. Samuelson returned to the floor at the 2:37 mark and closed out the quarter by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater over junior guard Lashann Higgs that shrunk the Longhorns’ lead to 24-21.

The deep ball stopped falling for Texas in the second quarter. After hitting 4-of-8 treys in the first, the Longhorns didn’t drain another triple until the fourth quarter. UConn rode the moment. The Huskies took the lead a handful of possessions later and clung to a 39-38 lead heading into halftime.

Once the outside shot was no longer an option, Texas shifted its point of attack to the paint.

“They were having so much success just putting it on the floor and going to the basket,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think they said, ‘We can get three the old-fashioned way.’ You know, get a layup and get fouled.”

On the team’s first possession of the third quarter, Higgs drove down the right baseline, drew a double team and found junior center Jatarie White at the elbow for an open jump shot.

White scored another six points in the quarter on post moves and putbacks that kept the Longhorns in the game.

The lead changed seven times in the third quarter, but Texas trailed 61-55 heading into the fourth.

Higgs ended the Longhorns’ cold streak from deep off an assist from senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau, cutting the lead in half. The Huskies missed their next shot, and senior guard Brooke McCarty scooped in a layup with just a second left on the shot clock to bring Texas within one.

UConn was called for an offensive foul at the other end. Then Higgs attacked the right block again, this time coming off a screen from senior guard Ariel Atkins. The Longhorns were finally leading, 62-61, with just 7:59 left in the game.

But they couldn’t hold it. UConn senior guard Gabby Williams hit a jumper on the next play, and Texas trailed the rest of the game.

Down 73-70 with 24.7 seconds remaining, the Longhorns fouled three consecutive times to push the Huskies into the bonus and send Samuelson to the free throw line. UConn had been a perfect 15-of-15 from the stripe all night. But Samuelson missed the first, and then the second.

Texas called timeout and Caron-Goudreau was fouled on the next play, giving the Longhorns an opportunity to cut the lead to one. She missed the first, but made the second. Texas immediately fouled UConn sophomore guard Crystal Dangerfield, who hit both of her free throws.

A last-ditch three from Sutton fell short as time expired. The Huskies had claimed victory.

White finished the game with 18 points and six rebounds. Atkins, Higgs and McCarty combined for 41 points. Though they didn’t come away with the win, the Longhorns were still pleased with the progress they showed.

“We proved that we don’t need to take days off,” White said. “I think that as a team, we know where we are right now and where we could be. And everyday in practice, we need to have that same energy.”

Texas (14–3, 5–1 Big 12) will travel to Lubbock on Saturday to take on Texas Tech.