FORT WORTH, Texas — The women’s basketball team was overpowered 71-54 by Texas Christian University in round two of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena.
TCU was hot off dispatching Prairie View A&M University in a 72-41 walloping on Thursday, and its dominance again was displayed against UTA. The Lady Mavericks fought back, making it a close game, but could never make the comeback happen.
Despite the mostly one-sided game, UTA fans followed through on head coach Krista Gerlich’s call to action after the first round win. Blue and orange stood out from the purple shirts and seats, with about half the 1,531 fans present supporting the Lady Mavericks, in what Gerlich described as a “championship environment.”
She said despite the loss, the season was a success and lived up to its “mountain climbers” motto.
“We’ve laid the foundation. Actually, we’ve kind of been mountain climbers for six years,” she said. “We’ve been trying to build it and change the culture and just the standard and the expectations at UTA.”
Points by freshman guard Terryn Milton and senior guard Cierra Johnson helped UTA stay on TCU’s heels in the early minutes of the first period. However, turnovers and early foul troubles held the Lady Mavericks back and gave away easy points for the Horned Frogs. The hosts ended on an 11-2 run to end the first period 20-10.
TCU kept its offensive output going into the second period, maintaining its double-digit lead through to the break. TCU’s senior forward Amy Okonkwo gave UTA’s defense plenty of trouble, scoring nine points and six rebounds in the first half alone. Okonkwo ended with 19 points and eight rebounds on the day.
The Lady Mavericks looked more revitalized at the start of the third quarter, outscoring TCU 12-7 in the opening minutes. Freshman guard Katie Ferrell played more in a transitional role as point guard instead of the usual forward spot, which Gerlich said was to provide a size advantage as the ball moved up.
“That’s the beauty of having a five player that can handle the ball and pass it,” Gerlich said.
Johnson kept racking up points from the free throw line, beyond the arc and through steals to bring UTA within four points after being behind by 17 points at the start of the period. Gerlich said she knew her team wasn’t out despite the deficit and fought out through the entire game.
However, a late surge by the Horned Frogs gave them some insurance to lead 51-43 at the end of the third.
TCU started the fourth period hot, going on a 10-2 run. Okonkwo scored eight to reassert the Horned Frogs’ dominance. UTA was held to 11 points during the quarter as the game finished, ending its season.
Junior guard Brooke Alexander and freshman guard Claire Chastain both had a cold game on the floor, shooting 14 times between the two, with only Alexander sinking a single 3-pointer.
Milton notched 10 points and four assists, while Ferrell led the team with 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists. Johnson posted her third 20-plus game of March, finishing with a game-high 23 points. Gerlich said she’ll miss Johnson’s character and leadership ability to put the team on her back.
“I just told her in the locker room, if I could bottle up whatever she has inside of her, I would absolutely do that,” Gerlich said.
In her five years at UTA, Johnson has become UTA’s all time steals leader with 318 thefts and sits seventh on UTA's scoring list with 1,396 career points.
“It’s been a ride,” Johnson said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I love it, and I hate that it’s over.”
UTA ended the season with a 24-8 overall record, a joint-high best; a Sun Belt Conference regular season championship; and a first-ever win in the postseason in program history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the fight that our kids had and the perseverance, and really, just the season that they’ve had,” Gerlich said. “It’s been so much fun — what a special group of young ladies I’ve had the privilege to coach.”