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Point Texas: Near Upset in Cowtown but #4 Texas Hangs On

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Photo Credit: @TexasVolleyball

Before a sold out crowd in Fort Worth, the Texas Longhorns (9-3) faced the Texas Christian Horned Frogs (10-5) in conference play only to grasp the win in the final moments of a nail-biter between the two teams.

Raising breast cancer awareness, the pink filled standing room only gym watched Horned Frog star, freshman outside hitter Elan McCall (Leander) dominate the court with a total 24 kills over the #4 ranked Longhorns, while Texas looked sloppy and off their game most the night.   But, fighting to maintain their top ranking that is crucial to staying in the mix for a regional playoff site, the Longhorns found a way to come out on top of the Horned Frogs who have only defeated Texas once since 2009.

In a sign of things to come, it was rocky from the outset with a challenge by Texas for a called touch by senior middle blocker from Desoto, Morgan Johnson.   Texas won the challenge and began to find their rhythm going up 14-9.  Junior libero Autumn Rounsaville of Dripping Springs worked the back line digging hard to get her team to 23-18 but TCU started clawing back with six unanswered points to tie it up at 23.  After a Texas timeout, the team reset and took the final two points to seal the first set (25-23)

The two teams stayed point for point as the second set started but missteps led to the Horned Frogs moving ahead of the Longhorns 10-8.   Ashley Shook, sophomore setter of Plainfield, Illinois, took control and stopped the Horned Frogs momentum with an unanswered dump over the net to maintain the two point gap (Texas 9-11).   A kill and serve by freshman  outside  hitter  and  2018  Big  12  Preseason  Freshman  of  the  Year,  Logan  Eggleston  (Brentwood,  Tennessee) and a stuff at the net by Freshman middle blocker Brionne  Butler  (Kendleton,  Texas) kept the Longhorns within two (14-16).   It wasn’t until a Horned Frog net violation that the Longhorns went up to tie at 16, and a TCU service error allowed junior outside  hitter  and 2018  Big  12  Preseason  Player  of  the  Year Micaya White (Frisco) to put Texas up (23-21).  Pausing for a Horned Frogs’ timeout, the Longhorns’ Morgan Johnson returned to the court with the kill to take the second (25-22).

Then the momentum changed.  TCU jumped on Texas early in the third set (5-1) forcing a Longhorn timeout.  Hitting errors plagued Texas while TCU stayed dominant (10-5). Continuing their run, TCU marked their biggest lead of the match (13-6).  The Longhorns weren’t defeated yet, inching their way back within two (13-15) until the Horned Frogs earned three straight unanswered points to take them to 18-13.  Although the senior outside hitter, Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani (Los Angeles, California) was able to slow TCU’s roll with a kill from the right side, Texas still found themselves down, 21-15 and the third set was TCU’s (25-20).

During the fourth set, the typical synergy between Texas’ Butler and 2017 AVCA All-American Honorable Mention Shook remained absent aiding TCU’s success (7-4). The only thing keeping Texas in the game was freshman libero Sydney Peterson’s (Dyke, Iowa) ups holding the still messy Longhorns’ play within reach.  But that wasn’t enough – TCU was scrappy and unyielding in the fourth.  The Longhorns finally tied it up at 13 after being down.  Continuing to struggle to find their rhythm, the momentum propelled TCU to take the fourth set 25-18.

In Cowtown, it was down to the first 15 pints in the fifth and final set. The big “mo” was certainly in TCU’s favor going into last set with Texas’ hitting percentage as a team in the first four at .168 versus .187 for TCU.  However, 2018 Preseason All-Big 12 selection Morgan Johnson and Shook started the final round connecting on two beautiful kills from the middle and the Longhorns finally looked in the zone, going up 5-3.  TCU didn’t let that last for long, getting back in quickly, tying it up 7-7.  A lead change in the raucous rec center with a Horned Frogs’ kill from McCall in the back row took them up 10-8, but Texas hung on keeping them within striking distance and tying it up at 12.  Poise from the Longhorn service line, freshman libero, Jhenna Gabriel (Honolulu, Hawaii) came in to clinch the final two points for Texas to claim the match.  It wasn’t pretty but it was a road victory.

Texas finally returns home to Gregory Gym Saturday to face Iowa State at 6PM (CST).

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Point Texas: Longhorns Topple Tech in Three

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Photo Credit: @TexasVolleyball

After a split on the road first suffering a disappointing loss to Kansas but rebounding in Norman over Oklahoma, Texas (12-4) returned home to the 40 acres to take Texas Tech (15-7) down in three sets (25-13, 25-18, 25-21).  While Texas has won 34 consecutive matches over the Red Raiders, recovering and improving from the upset in Lawrence that took the Longhorns from #4 to #8 in AVCA Coaches Poll was at the forefront of minds before a sold-out home crowd.

2018 Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Micaya White (Frisco) led Texas out to a quick 5-1 in the first set and would finish the match with the team high in kills (17) and digs (12).  The Longhorns dominated the Red Raiders in play round one but also benefited from Tech service errors extending their lead (10-4).  Freshman Sydney Peterson (Dyke, Iowa) consistently on her digging game at libero allowed Texas to propel (23-13).  A strong showing from middle hitters freshman Brionne Butler (Kendleton) and 2018 Preseason All Big 12 Selection and senior Johnson (Desoto) delivered the 25-13 win.

In a momentum reversal, Texas started down 1-4 but clawed their way back to tie it up at 8.  The 2018 Preseason All-Big 12 selection Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani (Los Angeles, CA), barely trailing the junior outside hitter White in kills for the day, advanced towards her season and career high throughout the match (16 total) and was critical to Texas finally gaining the lead (11-9).  Totaling 33 kills in combination for the match, the dynamic duo of White and senior Bedart-Ghani from the outside drove Texas towards securing the second set (25-18).

Keeping it close from the outset in the third (5-5), Texas began pulling away with strategic offensive plays including the versatile setter and 2017 AVCA  All-America  Honorable Mention Ashley Shook (Plainfield, Illinois) winning a play at the net taking Texas to 14-11.  An Eggleston kill, first ruled out but a challenge by Texas reversed the call, improved the Longhorns over the Raiders (16-13).  In under an hour and a half of play, Texas’ toppling of Tech ended on a kill from the 2018 Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, Eggleston (25-21).

Midway through the NCAA Volleyball season now, a Frida night upset with #9 Wisconsin Badgers victorious over the #5 Nebraska Huskers, who had just fallen to top ten ranked Penn State five days earlier, will certainly shake up the rankings and road to the championship bracket.

The Longhorns are back on the road to face the Cyclones in Ames on Wednesday (8PM).

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Texas Women's Basketball ends season at 31-5, optimistic for next season

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The Texas women’s basketball team ended its 2015-16 campaign a week ago Monday in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament.

The Longhorns lost to the University of Connecticut, 65-86, holding the Huskies to their lowest offensive scoring night in the tournament through their first four games. Before the game, UCONN scored an average of 98.7 points a contest.

It was unfortunate that Texas drew a No. 2 seed in UCONN’s region as the Huskies are aiming for their fourth consecutive national title, but the Longhorns never gave up.

“I think everyone could see that our team was exhausting themselves trying to compete,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said in the postgame conference.

Freshman guard Lashann Higgs and sophomore guard Ariel Atkins each scored 19 points, tying for the team high in points. Higgs came off the bench and utilized her 19 minutes wisely; the 19 points she scored created a new career high for her. Atkins played nearly the entire game, totaling 33 minutes of work. She hit three-of-four from 3-point range and swiped three steals.

Higgs and Atkins both earned Bridgeport All-Regional Team honors, giving Texas its first spots on an NCAA All-Regional team since 2003. They accompanied three other UCONN players on the list. Atkins averaged 18 points and 2.8 steals a game through four tournament games, leading the Longhorns in both categories. Higgs recorded double figures in scoring for three games, giving herself an average of 11.5 points a game for the tournament.

The 2015-16 season for the Longhorns ended up being one of their best seasons in recent years. Texas finished with 31 overall wins, marking a first in program history since the 1987-88 season. The Longhorns started the season undefeated, winning their first 16 games before losing to Baylor and finished with a 15-3 conference record. The team won its way to the Big 12 Championship game for the second consecutive year but came up short to Baylor. The No. 2 seed the Longhorns earned for the NCAA tournament marked their best seeding since 2004 when the team received a No. 1 seed.

“I think we are a phenomenal basketball team,” said Aston. “I didn’t say that last year. We weren’t. But I think we are a really good. And very easily could have been in the Final Four had we gone in a different region.”

The 2016-17 Texas women’s basketball team will have some big shoes to fill. Seniors Imani Boyette, Brady Sanders, Celina Rodrigo and Empress Davenport are all graduating and leaving the forty acres. Boyette ended her career as the only Longhorn to record more than 1,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 200 career blocks. Rodrigo leaves the program as the active leader in career assists. She recorded 140 assists this past season, which was 51 more than second place. Davenport played in every Longhorn matchup this season, starting in 34 of the 36 games. Sanders, recovering from her offseason surgery, struggled to see much of the court this past season, but she entered her last year co-leading the team in career games played. Sanders played in 29 of the games this past season.

Texas’ underclassmen have already been stepping up as seen through Higgs and Atkins performances during the NCAA tournament. Coming into the tournament, Atkins averaged 10 points a game. The 15 points she scored against Alabama State during the first round marked her lowest offensive showing during the tournament – She scored 22 against Missouri, 16 against UCLA and 19 against UCONN. During Big 12 conference play, Higgs only recorded minutes in 16 of the 18 games, averaging 4.1 points. Higgs ended the Longhorns’ NCAA tournament run with the third highest average in points on the team – Atkins and sophomore guard Brooke McCarty were the two teammates ahead of her.

Texas had a good run this season, finishing with more than 30 wins, but Aston is ready for a championship, and reaching the Elite Eight this season should encourage the team to push for more next season, according to Aston.

“As much as 31-5 sounds unbelievable, and I do think that we were an unbelievable team and had an unbelievable year, we still don’t have a ring,” said Aston. “We are still chasing championships. So, we should be highly motivated.”

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Women's Basketball to face UCONN in Elite 8

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The time has come. The Texas women’s basketball team faces the University of Connecticut in the round of eight on Monday night.

The Longhorns beat UCLA 72-64 on Saturday to advance to the regional finals. Texas trailed by five at halftime and six at the end of the third quarter before opening the fourth on a 10-0 run. The Horns scored 24 points in the final quarter to end the Bruins tournament run.

The University of Connecticut won its Sweet 16 game in regular Husky fashion, beating Mississippi State by 60 points. It was the largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA regional. The Huskies sit three wins short of their fourth consecutive national championship.

Texas and Connecticut have a little bit of tournament history of their own. Just last year, the Huskies ended the Longhorns tournament run in the round of 16. In the 2007-08 season, Connecticut routed Texas in the second round. And, the last time the Longhorns won an Elite Eight game, which was the 2002-03 season, the Huskies beat Texas in the Final Four before going on to win the national championship.

This year the Longhorns face the Huskies in the Elite Eight.

UCONN enters the game on a 72-game winning streak. Senior forward Breanna Stewart scored 22 points against Mississippi State in 25 minutes of play. Stewart is averaging 20.3 points a game during tournament play. The Huskies own numerous scoring options though. Freshman guard Katie Lou Samuelson recorded her second 20-point NCAA tournament game with 21 against Mississippi State. The freshman scored 22 against Robert Morris in the opening round of play. Samuelson is the third Husky with two 20-point games in tournament play as a freshman with the other two players being Maya Moore and Stewart.

Texas is having one of its better seasons in recent years. The Longhorns earned their 31st win against UCLA, giving Texas it’s first 31-win season since 1987-88. The Horns started the season undefeated, winning their first 16 games before losing to Baylor. Texas only lost three games during the regular season. The Longhorns senior center Imani Boyette has recorded 13 double-doubles this season with her first postseason double-double coming against the Bruins. Boyette became the first player in Texas history with more than 1,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 200 career-blocked shots.

For the top two seeds in the Bridgeport Region, there is more than just a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Longhorns are seeking their first regional championship in 13 years while Connecticut sits one win shy of 22 consecutive NCAA tournament wins, which would set a new tournament record. The regional final tips off Monday night at 6:00 CT and can be seen on ESPN.

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GAME PREVIEW: Texas Women's Basketball to face UCLA in Sweet 16

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The Texas women’s basketball team returns to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

The Longhorns beat Alabama State in the first round and former Big 12 foe Missouri in the second round to advance to the round of 16. Texas’ next opponent is No. 3 seed UCLA in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The Bruins hosted the first two rounds of the tournament, beating Hawai’i and South Florida to move to third round. UCLA has won 10 of its last 12 games. Both losses in that stretch came against Oregon State, a team who earned a No. 2 seed in Baylor’s region.

Texas is seeing a new offensive spark through its first two games of the tournament. Sophomore guard Ariel Atkins led the team in scoring both games with 15 against Alabama State and 22 against Missouri. The 22 points against the Tigers tied Atkins career high. Atkins entered the tournament averaging 10 points a game. Freshman guard Lashann Higgs is also making good use of her playing time with scoring 10 points in the first game and 11 points in the second game. Higgs is averaging 15 minutes a game.

The Longhorns, as a team, are averaging 79.5 points a game during the tournament. Against Alabama State, they scored 86 points. Previously, Texas only recorded 80-plus points twice during Big 12 play and a total of six times over the whole season.

The Bruins enter the match up averaging 69 points a game during the tournament. UCLA has numerous scoring options with senior guard Nirra Fields leading the way in the tournament by averaging 15 points a game. Sophomore guard Jordin Canada comes in second with 14.5 points.

UCLA led its second round game against South Florida 40-24 at halftime before letting the Bulls back into the game. The Bruins allowed South Florida to come within one point in the second half but held on to win 72-67.

The Texas defense is allowing an average of 48.5 points a game. The Longhorns held Alabama State to a 22.2 shooting percentage and Missouri to a 31.4 shooting percentage. Texas has also outrebounded both of its opponents so far in the tournament, something the Longhorns did often during their regular season.

This is the Bruins first time in the regional semifinals since 1999. The Longhorns are seeking their first Elite Eight appearance since the 2002-03 season when they lost in the Final Four to UCONN. A win over the Bruins this Saturday could set up a match up against the Huskies with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Bruins and Longhorns tip off at 1:00 CT on Saturday and will be broadcasted on ESPN.

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