The crowd was roaring, fans were cheering—it was a chance for the No. 9 Texas Longhorns take down the No. 1-ranked Connecticut Huskies for the first time in a series that started in 2003. With 15 seconds left, Longhorns forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau was at the line to shoot two free throws, one of which she made, putting Texas within two points. The Horns were forced to foul, but not before UConn was able to burn seven seconds off of the clock.
The fans remained on their feet, anxious to see how this long-awaited game for both teams would end. Two free throws and a desperation shot later, the Huskies won the game 75–71 to extend their record to 16–0. Disappointed Longhorn fans quietly walked out of the arena. The game ended in UConn’s favor, but that’s not the way it started.
A crowd of 11,877 devoted Longhorns and Huskies fans filled the seats of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, to see one of the most-anticipated games of the year. Both squads went through a pregame warmup routine complete with pump-up music and already cheering, excited fans.
“That was probably one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played with!” said Texas forward Jatarie White, who transferred from South Carolina. “The crowd was wonderful, and I loved seeing so many fans show up.”
After the Longhorn band played “The Eyes of Texas,” orange and white balloons fell from the ceiling onto fans wearing their team's colors; the crowd noise was already ramping up although the game hadn’t even tipped off! The atmosphere was intense.
The first quarter saw Texas lead for nearly nine minutes, and the Longhorns dominated on the boards, winning the rebound battle 12–7. The Huskies had more points in the paint but still found themselves trailing 24–21 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter had just four lead changes, and once again the Longhorns’ strong defensive effort kept them in the lead for the majority of the half. Brooke McCarty, the 2016 Big 12 Player of the Year, and Texas junior guard Lashann Higgs led UT with eight points each.
For the Huskies, star forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who played for all 20 minutes of the first half, led her team with 13 points and shot 50% from the three-point line. UConn led 39–38 at the half despite looking shaky at times, while Texas appeared to be fueled by the passionate crowd.
This was the quarter that would decide a winner. Who would it be? The final minutes were the minutes to watch, to write about, to witness. A seesaw couple of minutes featured strategic decisions and excellent defense. With 4:44 left, Texas took a timeout to regroup and refocus. As hard as the Longhorns tried, and as close as they came to knocking off the Huskies, Texas never retook the lead following the timeout.
UConn was confident, having taken down No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 13 UCLA, and No. 14 Maryland. The Huskies were used to playing top-ranked schools and showed it by shutting down Texas in the final minute and winning 75–71. White finished as the Horns’ leading scorer (18 points), and Samuelson led the Huskies (19 points).
Said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, “We did just enough to win the game, and [Texas] is a really tough team to play against, especially here.”
The Huskies kept their undefeated season alive, however Auriemma also learned a lesson or two from the game. “We found out a lot about how much tougher we have to be. There are some things that we can’t make up for, and we aren’t going to get a lot bigger as the season goes on,” he said.
The Longhorns played UConn tough and showed how deep they could potentially go in March. “I talked to the team before we went out on the floor tonight about the fact that this was an opportunity to measure and see who we are and who we can be,” coach Karen Aston said after the game.
Texas figured that out tonight, playing solid defense against a team that has put up 90-plus points nine times this season! Overall the Longhorns, in a packed arena, proved to themselves and the nation that they are a team to look out for.
Photographs by (from top): University of Texas Athletics; Riley Zayas