Backcourt battle, Humphrey will decide rematch
Texas fans had to be happy to see both Nina Norman and Jamie Carey bounce back from injuries in their first-round victory over Oral Roberts on Saturday.
Carey came into the game healthy but suffered a bruised jaw after colliding with an Oral Roberts player setting a screen late in the first half. It was a scary scene for Carey, who retired for two seasons following multiple concussions early in her career at Stanford. But she returned in the second half and finished with 13 points on three 3-pointers.
The guards' contributions -- a combined eight assists and 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting -- were vital to Texas' success. More importantly, the Longhorns might have picked up some momentum to take into their second-round match against Georgia, which will be played exactly four months after the Lady Bulldogs fought a 15-point deficit to beat the then-No. 2-ranked 'Horns 78-64 on Nov. 21 in Athens, Ga.
The first time the teams clashed, Norman and Carey might as well not have played. Norman was held scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting in 28 minutes, while Carey scored five points on a 2-of-6 effort from the field and 1-for-3 performance from downtown. Georgia's more athletic guards, meanwhile, dominated the backcourt as Cori Chambers and Sherill Baker combined to shoot 50 percent from the field and tally 33 points.
The matchup might determine whether Georgia or Texas advances to the Sweet 16, and the key for Texas is confidence. Norman's should be flying high after Saturday's performance, which was significantly higher than her 7.5 scoring average during the regular season. She shot the ball well against Oral Roberts, even making some layups with her left hand.
Norman and Carey are seasoned veterans, and I'd imagine they'll be fine mentally in this rematch. They know they need to raise their level of play and have plenty of motivation. They are clearly not as quick as the Lady Dogs, which means they need to be aggressive and attack Georgia. They can't play scared, and they can't be tentative. A strong, intense start from Norman and Carey could go a long way toward unsettling their Georgia counterparts.
That being said, the Lady Dogs looked very good Saturday. Baker, Alexis Kendrick, Janese Hardrick and Chambers did a great job generating offense off their defense. They stole the ball in the frontcourt, shut down Rice's passing lanes and picked off its guards to create a lot of easy baskets.
Tasha Humphrey also poses a problem for Texas. After watching the SEC freshman of the year in person Saturday, she's even better than I thought. The 6-foot-3 forward has terrific footwork, is a worker bee and is so strong and powerful (think baby Barkley!).
Humphrey, who scored 27 points against Texas last time around, is also very poised and never forced things Saturday, even early on when she faced double and triple teams. She made all the right adjustments, stepping away from the basket, throwing the ball to the high post, reversing the ball at the right time.
Expect Texas' Tiffany Jackson -- another All-American candidate -- to match up with Humphrey. Jackson needs to get the ball off the glass to try and outrun Humphrey and tire her out and to force her to play defense.
Texas' Heather Schreiber is one final potential X-factor. She got into early foul trouble Saturday and disappeared. She needs to aggressively attack the basket more against Georgia and be a factor offensively. Same goes for Kala Bowers, who needs to be more physical and contribute.
When Texas and Georgia met in November, just three Lady Dogs scored in double digits (Humphrey, Baker and Chambers). That might not be enough Monday.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.