Longhorns oust the Sun Devils, advance to Sweet 16

Lashann Higgs elevates for two. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
Lashann Higgs elevates for two. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.

Austin – Kianna Ibis could not be stopped. Pick-and-pop jumpers, streaks to the rim, spot-up threes — everything was falling in the Arizona State junior forward’s favor.

Texas junior guard Lashann Higgs responded to all of it. She slithered into the lane with poise and attacked the rim relentlessly. By the 3:01 mark in the first quarter, Ibis led both teams with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. Higgs followed close behind, nailing all three of her shots for six points.

The two wings battled all night Monday at the Frank Erwin Center in 2-seeded Texas’ 85-65 win over 7-seeded Arizona State.

Longhorn head coach Karen Aston pulled Higgs to the sideline with the score tied, 14-14, hoping to ignite another player’s engine. It worked. Sophomore forward Joyner Holmes, senior guard Ariel Atkins and junior center Jatarie White all hit close-range shots while shutting out the Sun Devils on defense.

Higgs returned to the game with 1:19 left. So did Ibis. The former dropped in one more layup before the end of the first. The latter hit three free throws. Heading into the second quarter, Ibis had racked up 12 points, but Texas led, 22-18, powered by Higgs’ eight points.

“I realized that, at the ball reversal, there were a lot of driving lanes open,” Higgs said. “So, I tried to take advantage of it, and just tried to be aggressive for my teammates.”

The pair continued to trade blows. Higgs could do no wrong. She started the quarter hitting a mid-range jump shot with an inch of room between her and her defender. She missed her next shot — a three from the left corner — but Atkins snagged the offensive rebound and put the ball back in to push the Longhorns’ lead to 11.

Ibis countered, draining her next jumper over Atkins to cut the lead back down to nine. Arizona State closed the half out on a 9-2 run. Ibis and Higgs each scored seven in the quarter as Texas continued to lead, 40-35.

ASU cooled off in the second half as McCarty heated up. Ibis took just one shot in the third quarter and missed it. McCarty took five — and made all of them.

“I think we did a better job of guarding (Ibis) as a team and not leaving whoever was guarding her individually on an island,” Atkins said.

McCarty snatched a board following one of Ibis’ bricks and pushed the pace on a fast break. She sent a lob toward Holmes a few inches too high. Holmes leapt in the air and bounced the ball off the legs of Sun Devil junior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman while diving out of bounds to keep possession.

ASU left McCarty open on the left wing. She canned in the triple and scored another nine points in the third.

“I just went out there and played,” McCarty said. “And whatever was open, I took it. My teammates were doing a great job of finding me and were doing a great job of boxing out and stuff like that. So, I just tried to help them out the best I could.”

Holmes and McCarty ran a similar play in the next quarter. McCarty collected her tenth rebound of the game — securing a double-double — and saw Holmes running a vertical route down the right sideline. She launched a lob, this time right on the money. Holmes touched down for layup, giving Texas a 73-52 lead with 5:55 left in the game. The Longhorns had sealed the victory.

Higgs finished the game with 19 points while McCarty and Holmes combined for 25. Ibis finished the game with 27.

“I’m just incredibly proud of our entire basketball team,” Aston said. “The fact that this is our fourth year in a row to got to the Sweet 16 and you can almost tell that, I don’t want to say they are getting used to it, we told them not to ever take it for granted, but they expect this.”

Texas advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with the win and will take on UCLA in Kansas City on Friday.