AUSTIN, Texas — After a season of serious injuries and nagging bumps and bruises, the Texas Longhorns are looking pretty healthy here in the NCAA Tournament.
They certainly look physical.
Shaylee Gonzales scored 20 points and No. 4 Texas rolled to a 79-40 win over No. 13 East Carolina on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on the Longhorns’ home court.
Texas rallied from a poor start this season to earn the role of host for the first two rounds and made quick work of the Pirates. Taylor Jones had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks for Texas (26-9). Texas blocked 12 shots.
The Longhorns raced to a 45-24 lead by halftime with Rori Harmon’s eight assists in the first half driving the Texas offense.
“We just played really well tonight,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. “They ran into a Texas team I was proud of. … Rori ran our team like a point guard is supposed to. She found the right people at the right time.”
PHOTOS: No March Madness: Gonzales, Texas easily dispatch ECU
Gonzales, a graduate transfer from BYU and last season’s West Coast Conference player of the year, made three consecutive baskets in the opening minutes of the third quarter that pushed her over 2,000 points for her career. Texas led by 33 to start the fourth.
“Super special,” Gonzales said of the milestone. “I definitely have worked super hard in my whole basketball career.”
Texas advanced to Monday’s second-round matchup with No. 5 Louisville (24-11), which beat No. 12 Drake 83-81 earlier Saturday.
Danae McNeal led East Carolina (23-10) with 13 points in the Pirates’ first NCAA Tournament game since 2007. Texas outscored East Carolina 40-16 in the paint.
“It takes heart, and we didn’t show that tonight,” McNeal said.
Gonzales is the only Longhorn to start every game this season as the Longhorns were battered by a series of injuries. Ranked No. 3 to start the season, Texas quickly tumbled all the way out of the Top 25 as injuries mounted.
But after shoving around the Pirates, Texas is now within one win of the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.
East Carolina: The Pirates hope to become tournament regulars after such a long drought for the program. Coach Kim McNeill has a foundation to build on with guard Amiya Joyner, the American Athletic Conference freshman of the year, and junior guard Synia Johnson, who was the most valuable player of the conference tournament.
“We’re going to make this a place that is familiar to us. We’ve learned what it takes to be successful at this level. It’s made us hungrier,” McNeill said. “I really hope people don’t remember us on how we finished, this one game.”
Texas: Shooting guard Sonya Morris returned to the court in the first quarter after being out since Feb. 4 with a deep thigh contusion. Morris wore a football-like thigh pad on her right leg. She played only 13 minutes but made her first shot, a 3-pointer from the right wing. She was Texas’ best 3-point shooter before she was hurt.
“I’m not sure we ever thought we’d get her back until we got back from the Big 12 (tournament),” Schaefer said. “We were kind of hoping next (weekend).”
Texas is 22-0 when holding opponents under 60 points this season. The Longhorns held the Pirates under 10 points in each of the final three quarters.
Texas plays No. 5 Louisville on Monday. The Cardinals beat Texas 71-63 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas in December. Harmon missed that game with a toe injury.
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