AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas coach Karen Aston came to the Longhorns five years ago with a goal of setting a new standard of excellence for the program. Three straight trips to the Sweet 16 set a pretty nice bar.
Brooke McCarty scored 23 points and the No. 3-seed Longhorns got a put-back basket from Joyner Holmes with 4 seconds left to the send them to thrilling 84-80 win Sunday over No. 6 North Carolina State, earning another trip deep into the NCAA Tournament in the Lexington Regional.
“Stringing along these Sweet 16s, it’s the standard here,” McCarty said. “This is what you do. You come here to do this.”
This one took some big plays and big shots from the Big 12 player of the year to dig the Longhorns out from a second-half deficit and carry the Longhorns past two outstanding scoring efforts from North Carolina State guards Miah Spencer and Dominique Wilson. Spencer scored 31 and Wilson scored 27 for the Wolfpack.
But Spencer fouled out with 1 minute left when she tangled with McCarty away from the ball and Wilson’s go-ahead basket with 8 seconds left was waived off on a charging call.
McCarty said she was trying to tangle up Spencer to get her out of the game. Her two free throws after the foul gave Texas the lead for good at 79-78.
“We knew she had four fouls,” McCarty said. “I tried to engage her as much as I could.”
After Spencer went to the bench fighting off tears, Wilson had what she thought was the shot to win, only to hear the whistle go against her. Texas’ Lashann Higgs then made one free throw for an 82-80 Texas lead but missed the second. Holmes grabbed the rebound, missed her first shot, then made the second to seal the win. Holmes finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
North Carolina State (23-9) missed going to its first Sweet 16 since 2007.
“It just hurts. You feel helpless,” Wilson said.
Texas came out hot on its home court and shot 10-of-13 in scoring 28 points in a blistering first quarter. Texas threatened to make it a blowout but couldn’t keep up the pace and scored just nine points in the second as the Wolfpack rallied to within 37-36 by halftime.
Aston called the quick start “fool’s gold” and the Longhorns kept taking outside shots that stopped falling.
North Carolina State won some tough games on the road and wasn’t rattled by the deficit. Spencer and Wilson led the Wolfpack rally with tough drives to the basket time and time again and North Carolina State led by eight late in the third quarter. The problems came late when foul troubles started to mount late the fourth. Along with Spencer, forwards Chelsea Nelson, Jennifer Mathurin and Akela Maize fouled out, leaving the Wolfpack with almost no one left to challenge Holmes for the final rebound.
The junior guard is the smallest player on Texas roster but has carried the Longhorns all season with big plays. A 3-pointer pulled Texas within two midway through the fourth quarter, and drawing the foul on Spencer proved critical. She also went 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
Aston called McCarty the “engine” for the team.
“She has grown in the sense of understanding when is the moment she needs to make plays,” Aston said.
Both teams were excellent from the free throw line: Texas made 19 of 23 and North Carolina State was 26 of 29.
“We’ve definitely grown up in that area. That was an Achilles heel for us quite a lot of the season,” Aston said.
Texas goes on to the Lexington, Kentucky to play the winner of Monday’s matchup between Kansas State-Stanford.