FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2018, file photo, Texas guard Brooke McCarty, right, guard Ariel Atkins, center, and teammates celebrate from the bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State, in Austin, Texas. McCarty and Atkins have gone deep into the NCAA women's tournament each year of their career. Just not far enough. The Texas seniors who have played a huge role in reviving a dormant powerhouse are seniors now with one last shot to do something special, starting Saturday, March 17, 2018 when the No. 2 seed Longhorns meet No. 15 Maine in the Austin region. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

NCAA tournament last chance for Texas duo McCarty and Atkins

March 16, 2018 - 6:44 pm

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty have led Texas deep into the NCAA Tournament each of the previous three years. Just not deep enough.

After one regional final appearance and two trips to the Sweet 16, the Longhorns seniors have a final chance to do something special at the program they helped revive back into a national power: Win a national title or at least get to the Final Four.

"We've given Texas everything we have, although we still have more to go," Atkins said Friday. "It's my last time. It's our last chance."

The No. 2 seed Longhorns (26-6) open NCAA Tournament play on their home court Saturday night against America East Conference tourney champion and No. 15 seed Maine (23-9). The other first-round game in Austin pits No. 7 Arizona State (21-12) against No. 10 Nebraska (21-10).

Texas is one of the esteemed programs in women's basketball, even if its royalty is mostly an homage to years past. The Longhorns had the first NCAA women's undefeated national champion in 1986, but they haven't been to the Final Four since 2003.

McCarty and Atkins were the nucleus of the group that put Texas back on the path toward the national elite. Both ranked among the top recruits in the country when they signed with coach Karen Aston's rebuilding project and they made the Sweet 16 as freshmen. An Elite Eight appearance and another Sweet 16 followed. McCarty was the Big 12 player of the year as a junior. Texas has been ranked in the top 10 all season.

Aston regards both among the special players she's coached. When Aston got a late technical against Baylor in the Big 12 tournament championship, it was McCarty who calmed her down.

"They reflect what I came here for. My job when I got here was to do everything I could to make Texas better," Aston said. "When I recruited them, that's all it was about to them."

Texas looks like physical mismatch for Maine. The Black Bears don't have a player over 6-foot-1 and will struggle to match the shifty drives of McCarty and Lashann Higgs.

Texas is hosting the first and second rounds for the third consecutive year. The Longhorns last lost an NCAA Tournament game on their home court in 2010 when they were a No. 6 seed and fell to No. 11 San Diego State.

Maine earned its first tournament appearance since 2004. The Black Bears' only win in seven previous NCAA tournament appearances was a 60-58 upset of Stanford in 1999. Maine coach Amy Vachon was a Black Bears guard in that game. She still holds Maine's single-season assists record of 234.

Four of Maine's five starters are foreign-born players from Spain, Sweden, Israel and Canada.

"They all speak English. People ask that a lot," Vachon said. "But basketball is basketball. No matter where you are in the world, that round ball can unite a lot of different people from a lot of different places. For us, it really has. You forget they are from all around the world. It's like they are all from Maine."


Nebraska's 14-game turnaround from a seven-win season last year is tied with Rutgers for the best in the country. That earned Amy Williams Big Ten coach of the year honors. Williams was a four-year letterman at Nebraska as a walk-on in the mid-90s and took over the program in 2016. She has watched her players grow from the struggles of last season into a tough, confident team that went 6-2 on the road in the Big Ten.

"I kind of pinch myself almost every day when I walk into work," Williams said. "(I'm) incredibly honored and humbled to be the head coach of the university I played for and represented and poured blood, sweat and tears into."


Arizona State led the Pac-12 in scoring defense and held opponents under 12 points in a quarter 51 times this season. The Sun Devils allow just 56 points per game.

"We kind of play a pressure-style defense, really try to bother their team, not let them do what they want to do .... make other teams struggle," Arizona State forward Robbi Ryan said.

That's the same mentality Nebraska brings. Cornhuskers opponents average 63 points. Nebraska held Kansas to 12 points in the second half in early season win.

"We kind of like to think we mirror (Arizona State)," Williams said. "But I think they're a slightly better rebounding team than we've proven to be all season."


Texas' front-court depth keeps shrinking. Freshman forward Rellah Boothe, one of the top recruits in the country, won't play for undisclosed personal reasons. Boothe missed 12 games in mid-season under similar circumstances.

Boothe was ranked the No. 1 forward in the country and the No. 3 player overall by ESPN coming out of IMG Academy in Florida. She averaged just 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds this season. Texas has also missed 6-4 senior Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau, who started 23 games until a hand injury required surgery. She has missed the last eight games.

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