AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Freshman Aaliyah Moore scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Texas overcame a gritty effort from Fairfield to open the NCAA Tournament with a 70-52 win Friday night on the Longhorns’ home court.
Texas, a No. 2 seed, smothered No. 15-seed Fairfield early, holding the Stags under 10 points in each of the first two quarters as the Longhorns built a 39-18 lead by halftime and looked to be on cruise control.
Then they had to fight off a scrappy, experienced Fairfield lineup that refused to wilt. The Stags cut the Texas lead to 56-46 early in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns were looking tired and sloppy before Aliyah Matharu hit a much-needed 3-pointer. She then fed Moore for a layup over two defenders that created a 15-point cushion that Texas could manage the rest of the way.
“I love her intensity, I love her no fear,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said of Moore. “The kid just plays her guts out. You have to appreciate that. We needed her tonight.”
Moore’s two free throws with 3:48 left pushed the Texas lead to 20 and put the game finally out of reach. Moore went 10 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“This is the first round. I’m excited to see how far I can go, my team can go,” Moore said. “This wasn’t the greatest game, we didn’t play very well, but it’s survive and advance.”
Rori Harmon, the Big 12 freshman of the year, scored 10 points and had 11 assists Friday night for Texas (27-6). The Longhorns advance to Sunday’s second round against No. 7 seed Utah (21-11), which beat No. 10 Arkansas 92-69 earlier Friday.
Lou Lopez-Senechal of France scored 17 points for Fairfield (25-7). But the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year had to leave the game with 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter after getting a cut on her left cheek while battling for a rebound.
Texas led 12-8 when Lopez-Senechal was cut, and the Longhorns went on a 25-9 tear after she left while holding a towel to her face. She got several stitches before returning in the third quarter, then made a 3-pointer on the first shot of the second half to lead the rally that kept the Stags in sight of a potential upset until late.
Fairfield guard Rachel Hakes wondered what might have been if if Lopez-Senechal hadn’t missed the entire second quarter.
“I’m always looking for Lou when she’s on the floor.” Hakes said. We’re fighters … We were really happy to cut it to 10 and if a few things would have gone our way, it might have gotten closer.”
Fairfield: The Stags’ first game in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 was also the final one for coach Joe Frager. He announced before the season he’s retiring due to health concerns. Frager finishes with a 265-191 record in 15 seasons with the Stags. He also won a Division II national championship at Southern Connecticut in 2007 before taking over at Fairfield.
“I still haven’t really processed that yet,” Frager said of his retirement. “This was just a great experience coaching these women and a season to remember … I told them before the game, you’ve earned this, you belong here.”
Texas: The Longhorns get one more game in their 45-year-old home arena, the Frank Erwin Center. Texas is shuttering the building after this season to move into a new arena.
Texas forced 22 Fairfield turnovers, nearly double the Stags’ season average. Hakes had nine as she was challenged by Harmon and Matharu on the ball the entire game. The Longhorns turned those turnovers into 20 points. The Stags gave nearly as good as they got, however, turning 14 Texas turnovers into 16 points.
THINGS ARE JUST BIGGER IN TEXAS
Texas wore down Fairfield with its size in the post as Moore established position time and again late. The Longhorns had a 38-28 rebounding edge and outscored the Stags in the paint 38-14, including 21 points after offensive rebounds.
“We sort of wore down there at the end,” Frager said. “(Moore) was a big part of that.”
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