ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Texas spent long hours in the gym last summer trying improve its spacing on offense and create wider passing lanes.
Ariel Atkins, a senior guard, can see how that time is paying off. Role players who didn’t get many minutes last season are acing their chances. Freshmen are helping out, too, as the Longhorns have emerged as the nation’s top-scoring team.
”It’s really fun to see them getting rewarded for the work they put in,” Atkins said.
Atkins had 17 points and nine rebounds, Jatarie White added 13 points and No. 2 Texas cruised to an 81-53 victory over Georgia on Sunday.
Brooke McCarty and Lashann Higgs each scored 12 points as the Longhorns (7-0) dominated on both ends of the floor. Texas’ defense kept the Lady Bulldogs from getting to the rim and from generating any momentum beyond the arc. And the Longhorns had nearly everything working offensively in their half-court sets and fast-break chances.
Higgs, now a full-time starter, was a catalyst with five assists and no turnovers.
”Lashann has shown incredible growth,” coach Karen Aston said. ”It makes it easier on our older players when Lashann plays how she’s been playing. I think we did a good job attacking.”
Mackenzie Engram finished with 17 points and was the only player to score in double figures for Georgia (7-1), which made it to the free-throw line just eight times and shot 17.6 percent on 17 3-point attempts.
Texas was at its best late in the second quarter after Georgia pulled with 10 on Gabby Connally’s layup. Atkins blocked a shot and fed Jordan Hosey for a layup. Hosey and Alecia Sutton, a pair of reserves, each had a steal and a quick layup as the Longhorns closed the first half on a 9-0 run to lead by 19.
The Longhorn, hit seven of their first 11 shots from the field to go up 22-9 at the end of the first quarter. Georgia pulled within seven in the second on Connally’s 3, but the Lady Bulldogs couldn’t overcome having three starters – Caliya Robinson, Que Morrison and Haley Clark – in foul trouble through most of the first half.
”When we made that comeback, we did what we had to do and then we kind of just let it go,” Engram said. ”Give credit to Texas. They’re an amazing team.”
Texas: The Longhorns’ roster has plenty of depth, and it’s about to get even better when Joyner Holmes, the 2016 Big 12 freshman of the year, returns to the team on Dec. 23 following an NCAA rules violation that was revealed in July. Holmes averaged 12.1 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds and played a big role in the Longhorns advancing to a third straight Sweet 16. She will return to an offense that’s already averaging 93 points a game.
”With Joyner coming back, we will put her back in the lineup,” Atkins said. ”It will be a lot of fun.”
Georgia: In their first big game, the Lady Bulldogs got just four points from Robinson, their leading scorer this season, and had a combined 15 points from three other starters. Coach Joni Taylor will use a nearly two-week break to respond to the weaknesses exposed by Texas. The Lady Bulldogs have five games left before the Southeastern Conference part of the season starts.
”It was kind of an eye opener and we know what we need to work on,” guard Maya Caldwell said.