AUSTIN, Texas -- Freshman Aaliyah Moore scored 21 points, Texas shut down Utah's prolific 3-point shooting and the Longhorns earned another trip to the Sweet 16 with a 78-56 victory Sunday.
The Longhorns shot 71% in a blistering first half to open up a 14-point lead, then stretched it as high as 26 in the third quarter. Defensively, Texas smothered Utah shooters. The Utes made 15 3-pointers in a first-round win over Arkansas, but were just 6 of 20 from long range against Texas.
“Everybody’s got a plan coming out,” Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer said. “But at the end of the day, our pressure usually wears on you a little bit and I thought it did today.”
The No. 2 seed in the Spokane, Washington, regional, Texas (28-6) moves on to face the winner of the matchup Monday night between No. 3 seed LSU and and No. 6 Ohio State. The Longhorns advanced to the regional final last season.
Kennady McQueen led No. 7 Utah ( 21-12) with 18 points.
Moore has emerged as one of breakout players of the tournament's first two rounds. Hampered in part by an ankle injury during the regular season, she hadn't scored more than 12 points until the NCAA Tournament.
She had 18 points and 10 rebounds in first round win over Fairfield, then came off the bench to score 14 in the second quarter against Utah as the game turned into a romp. Moore was 9-of-10 shooting for the game. Most of it came near the basket, but she also stepped out to show off and easy stroke on a mid-range jumper.
“You can pass her the ball just about anywhere on the floor, she’s going to do something with it,” Texas guard Aliyah Matharu said.
Texas led 19-17 after the first quarter as the teams raced up and down the court. But after forcing just one turnover in the first period, Texas' lockdown defense forced six in the second. A steady diet of passes from Rori Harmon to Moore in the post quickly stretched the Longhorns' lead to double digits.
“We said, 'Don’t settle, let’s keep pushing the lead,” Moore said.
Harmon then opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer from the left wing and a 3-point play by Moore had the lead up to 20.
“We always want to punch first,” Harmon said.
The wave of 3-pointers Utah produced in the first round rippled only briefly against Texas when McQueen hit three in the first quarter, but never returned in time to rally the Utes.
“We started off the game really well, pressure-wise,” Utah guard Dru Gylten said. “That second half, maybe they just got into our heads too much. We just wanted somebody to make a play.”
Utah: Gylten is the only senior starter on a team that earned the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 and led the Pac-12 in scoring.
“We’re so young, our culture is fantastic ... Our kids play super hard,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “I'm excited to see what we can do in the future. But I don't want to move on too quickly. These guys deserve to enjoy the season we had."
Texas: Utah would have figured to have the depth to match the Longhorns in a fast-paced game. The Utes looked fresh after their first game rout of Arkansas, only to see Texas outscore the Utes off the bench 44-10 as Moore and Matharu combined for 35 points.
Texas and the NCAA Tournament are saying farewell to the Longhorns’ home court at the Frank Erwin Center, also known as “The Drum.”
Sunday’s game was the last one at the 45-year-old building, which is being closed as Texas moves to new arena just a few blocks away. Texas has won eight consecutive tournament games at the Erwin Center and is 27-9 overall on their old home court. Their hadn't lost an NCAA Tournament game at home since the first round in 2009.
“It was an honor for me to play there,” Harmon said.
The game featured the Pac-12 freshman of the year in Utah's Gianna Kneepkens and the Big 12 freshman of the year in Harmon. The Longhorn player easily won that battle. Harmon scored 11 points to go with eight assists. Kneepkens finished with four points and two assists.
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