The women’s basketball team topped Stephen F. Austin State University in a nail-biting 60-54 victory in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
UTA qualified for the tournament via an automatic bid with its regular season conference title while Stephen F. Austin State University qualified through an at-large bid.
The win landmarked several accolades: head coach Krista Gerlich’s 100th all-time win, her 24th win of the season and the first postseason win in Lady Mavericks history.
Gerlich said the win set the tone for the program’s expectations, and participating in this tournament gives the team valuable experience for the future.
“We want to play in the postseason every year,” she said. “At the end of the day, yes, we want to play in the NCAA tournament.”
Senior guard Cierra Johnson led the Lady Mavericks with 25 points and was perfect from the free-throw line, going 10-10. Gerlich said Johnson’s performance was as clutch as it gets.
Johnson’s last two home games have seen her down a career-high 31 points against Troy University and tonight’s 25 against Stephen F. Austin State University. Gerlich praised her competitive drive and overall contribution to the team this season.
The Ladyjacks started the game hot with a pair of 3-pointers by Chanell Hayes, Stephen F. Austin State University's senior guard. UTA kept it a battled game, with four of its five starters getting on the board with eight points.
A pair of layups from senior forward Daiane Machado helped UTA claw back from a six-point deficit to end the quarter 19-19. Gerlich said it was Machado’s best defensive performance in UTA colors, with eight rebounds, two blocks and one steal balancing her eight points scored.
UTA held Stephen F. Austin State University scoreless in the second quarter for nearly five minutes while extending its lead by as much as 13 points. Johnson scored four from the charity stripe and a 3-pointer in a 15-2 run by the Lady Mavericks to seemingly put the home side in the driver’s seat.
But Stephen F. Austin State University came alive with its own 15-2 run in the latter half of the period to cut the lead. A buzzer-beating jumper by freshman guard Katie Ferrell was enough to see UTA edge a 38-36 lead into the break.
Gerlich said the back-and-forth nature of the game set up for an intense mental game on the court, but her team didn’t panic and executed its game plan.
The Lady Mavericks started the second half with an intense offensive output, outscoring Stephen F. Austin State University 7-2 in the opening five minutes. Johnson added seven points as UTA extended its lead to seven points, but again Stephen F. Austin State University cut the deficit to just 49-46 by the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter saw the game’s intensity reach new levels, with Stephen F. Austin State University turning the tables with an early 6-0 run. Again, Johnson stepped up to level the scoring 54-54 with an and-one from the free throw line.
Junior guard Aysia Evans put the Lady Mavericks ahead on a shot clock-beating jumper, while Ferrell picked up her fourth foul to put her on thin ice. The fifth foul never came as Ferrell ended the game with six points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Johnson scored seven in the final minutes, four from the free throw line, to put the game to bed. She said the win was huge for the program, and she hopes to advance even further in the tournament.
“We really don’t want to be done yet,” she said. “It’s really hitting me that I’m a senior, and it’s about to be over, so I want to go as far as we can.”
Next up, the Lady Mavericks face the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University in a Tarrant County matchup in the second round of the tournament. The game will tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth.
Photos: Lady Mavericks win first round of Women's National Invitation Tournament
For their first game in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, the Lady Mavericks battled Stephen F. Austin State University on March 21 at College Park Center.
In a nail-biting matchup, UTA came out victorious with a final score of 60-54. UTA will advance to the second round of the tournament to face Texas Christian University at 2 p.m. March 23 in Fort Worth.