AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Utah’s offensive philosophy is pretty simple. Some baskets count more than others so the Utes might as well fire away from the 3-point line.
Seventh-seeded Utah made 15 3-pointers on Arkansas — three shy of a women’s NCAA Tournament record — in the first round to earn a second-round matchup Sunday with No. 2 Texas. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Spokane, Washington.
The long ball has been the specialty for Pac-12’s highest scoring team all season, and the Utes (21-11) plan to keep their shoot-at-will approach against one of the toughest defensive teams in the country.
“Three (points) is more than two, so I really am trying to get how many points per possession, points per shot attempt,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said, describing her “geeked-out” offseason dive into the analytics of offense. “Luckily I’ve recruited kids that can shoot it, kids that can score, and so we had a roster that was built for that.”
The Utes have made nine or more 3-pointers 19 times this season. And six Utes hit from long range against Arkansas, with Kennady McQueen going 6 of 9.
“We all like to shoot the 3 and all of us can, so it makes it a lot of fun,” McQueen said.
But Texas (27-6) plays the kind of relentless, aggressive defense that can blow up analytics. Starting with guards Rori Harmon and Joanne Allen-Taylor, the Longhorns dog ballhandlers into turnovers and close off passing lanes. Just getting the ball in bounds or up the court can be a struggle.
“You’ve got to go through a ton of film to get to something that’s similar to us,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. “There’s not a lot of Pac-12 film that’s similar to us.”
In their opening win over Fairfield, Texas forced 22 turnovers, twice the season average for the Stags. Fairfield coach Joe Frager said every possession was a battle.
“You’d better that two or three different plans to advance the basketball (against Texas). You have to have two or three things in your bad of tricks to get the ball in,” Frager said. “If you’ve got two or three ball handlers, I think you need to share that responsibility because if you allow Rori Harmon to be on the ball for 30, 40 minutes a game, that’s a problem.”
Harmon is the Big 12 freshman of the year and was the only freshman voted to the league’s all-defensive team.
Utah senior point guard Dru Gylten is well aware of what she’s facing. She had 11 assists against Arkansas but also had six turnovers, three in the first quarter.
“Texas’ strong suit is the pressure and kind of getting into your head,” Gylten said. “We are going to have to play under control. Just being a point guard, and being a leader, I’m going to have to come out strong and make that a focus for myself and the team will follow.”
And if the Utes can get their shooters free?
“It’s going to be a problem,” Schaefer said. “If we stand out there and try to play ‘horse’ with them, we’re going to lose.”
RETURN TO TEXAS
Utah reserve junior guard Isabel Palmer started her career at Texas. She transferred after one season when Texas did not renew former coach Karen Aston’s contract and hired Vic Schaefer away from Mississippi State. The Australian has battled several nagging injuries and even had a bout with COVID-19 since the move, but scored nine points in the win over Arkansas.
Roberts had recruited Palmer while in high school and jumped at the second chance to get her.
“When we knew she was leaving Texas, we got right back in the mix,” Roberts said. “I think she’s having fun playing here in Austin.”
AU REVOIR ERWIN CENTER
Texas’ Erwin Center has a long history of hosting NCAA Tournament games. That ends Sunday.
The building is being shuttered after this season as the Longhorns move to a new arena just a few blocks away. Texas has won seven straight tournament games at the Erwin Center and is 26-9 overall on their home court. Their last NCAA Tournament loss at home came in 2009, when the Longhorns were beaten by San Diego State in the first round.
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