The seniors stole the spotlight and led the women’s basketball team to an 88-65 victory against Troy University on Saturday at College Park Center.
Senior guard Cierra Johnson dropped a career-high 31 points while snagging 12 rebounds to post her third double-double of the season.
Head coach Krista Gerlich said her team got better offensively as the game wore on, with Johnson being relentless and aggressive. Johnson went 8-19 from the field and was 14-15 from the free throw line in one of her most commanding performances of the season.
Gerlich said all four seniors pushed the team forward: senior guard Daiane Machado gave the team a spark with four assists and two rebounds off the bench, while senior guards Lauren Billie and Laurynn McGowen helped propel UTA’s attack when they needed it most.
Billie ended the afternoon with 11 points and seven rebounds, going 4-8 from the field and 3-5 from deep.
“I’m just so proud of how they finished their career in this College Park Center,” she said. “Luckily, their careers aren’t over yet.”
The win guaranteed UTA a top-two seed and an automatic semifinal spot for the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Championship. It also gave Gerlich her 22nd win of the season, tying her best season from 2016-17.
The opening minutes saw Troy keep UTA at bay as they took a 12-8 lead. The Trojans made things difficult with heavy rotation and a high press that stifled the Lady Maverick offense. Machado looked to add another element to UTA’s gameplan, but was called for an unsportsmanlike foul during the quarter’s closing minutes.
Gerlich said the call was a turning point in the game as the players stepped up from then on. UTA trailed 20-13 at the end of the quarter.
The Lady Mavericks stormed into the second period to cut the lead to three before Billie evened things up with a 3-pointer. Freshman guard Terryn Milton had her own shot go in from deep to give UTA its first lead of the game five minutes before the break. Billie and Johnson scored a combined 13 points late in the period to lead a 19-2 run. The Lady Mavericks went into the break with a soaring 43-26 lead.
Gerlich said those were “big time” points and gave the team momentum going into the second half.
The Trojans found themselves chasing the game for the first time in the third period. They came out hard looking to cut the lead, but UTA responded by outscoring Troy 19-15. Twelve of the Lady Mavericks’ points in the quarter came from the charity stripe.
Gerlich said team played sound defense in the second and third quarters, only allowing Troy to score a combined 21 points.
The final period saw Troy make one last effort to get back in the game. The Trojans scored 24 points in the fourth quarter but their efforts ultimately proved futile as UTA outscored them with 26. Milton ended the game with 15 points and three rebounds while freshman guard Claire Chastain ended with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists.
The Lady Mavericks close out their regular season against Texas State University at 2 p.m. March 9 at Strahan Arena at University Events Center.