Commentary

Marquette executes late, tops Texas

Goestenkors likely faces criticism after Horns lose in first round for third year in a row

Originally Published: March 19, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Terri Mitchell, in her 15th season at Marquette, is used to taking aim at a giant, considering you-know-who refuses to ever have a down year in the Big East.

But even with all that experience against mighty UConn, the chore of facing Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena is still about as appealing as trying to sell a truckload of copies of Geno Auriemma's biography at a Knoxville bookstore.

The alternative, though, is going home from the NCAA tournament. And that's much worse.

Texas led by as much as nine in the second half, but in the final minute, the Golden Eagles executed and the Longhorns didn't. … Never was it more obvious how much Texas missed a strong, low-block post attack this season than by watching this game.

Saturday, Marquette advanced to meet the No. 1 seed Lady Vols next. Texas heads back to Austin, where fans won't have torches and pitchforks ready for coach Gail Goestenkors … but there will be some very vocal critics after seeing the Longhorns lose for the third season in a row in the NCAA tournament's first round.

Texas, the No. 9 seed, was going for the upset of No. 8 Marquette in the Dayton Regional, but fell 68-65. Texas led by as much as nine in the second half, but in the final minute, the Golden Eagles executed and the Longhorns didn't.

Marquette sophomore Sarina Simmons, a native of Milwaukee who stayed home to play for the Golden Eagles, had two key blocks on the Longhorns' second-to-last possession. Then on the other end, Marquette senior guard Tatiyiana McMorris shook her defender and got an open look at a 3-pointer. It swished with nine seconds left, and Texas didn't get a shot off before the buzzer.

Never was it more obvious how much Texas missed a strong, low-block post attack this season than by watching this game. Cokie Reed was injured and missed the season, and Ashley Gayle was not able to establish herself as a reliable offensive threat. She had six points on 3-of-9 shooting Saturday.

And Texas didn't get to the free throw line even once all game. That is not just evidence of the Longhorns' postgame woes, but of the guards' inability to draw fouls. Texas has two juniors, Ashley Fontenette and Yvonne Anderson, in its starting backcourt, but the Longhorns still at times looked disorganized.

"Our defense broke down, obviously," Goestenkors said of McMorris' winning shot. "The play they ran at the end we knew was coming, but didn't do a good job switching out.

"I thought we played extremely hard, sometimes not well. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't attack the basket more. That's really our game and [I] just heard for the first time in school history we did not shoot a free throw in a game."

Yeah, all that will give the Longhorns -- who got into the field with a 7-9 Big 12 record -- a lot that's bitter to chew on in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeAngel Robinson
Don McPeak/US PresswireAngel Robinson scored a team-high 19 points and never left the court for Marquette.

Meanwhile, Marquette guard Angel Robinson led the Golden Eagles with 19 points. Her fellow seniors Paige Fiedorowicz (14 points) and McMorris (13) also scored in double figures.

This is Marquette's first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2007, and the Golden Eagles have never made it the Sweet 16. To do it this year would require a major upset of the No. 1 seed on its home court.

But Texas wishes it was at least getting that chance. At very few programs in women's basketball would there be grumbling about a coach's future after she'd made the NCAA field in every season at that school.

However, in the spring of 2007 when Texas lured Goestenkors away from the Duke program she built, it was with the intent of making the Longhorns NCAA champions again, pronto.

The idea that any coach could do it right away in a Big 12 Conference that includes powerful programs such as Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma in the same division … well, that seemed fanciful to a lot of observers.

But Texas thought otherwise. Some Texas backers were lukewarm on Goestenkors from the start, though, because she had no traditional ties to the state of Texas or southwest in general. And they have not been happy with losses the last three seasons in the NCAA first round to Mississippi State, San Diego State and now Marquette.

And in retrospect, the hiring of Mickie DeMoss as a top assistant when Goestenkors came to Austin probably was a mistake. As successful as she has been in the SEC as an assistant at Tennessee and in her stints as a head coach, DeMoss didn't seem to really have her heart in the job at Texas, and headed back to Tennessee after last season.

Recruiting is the biggest issue that Goestenkors has faced, and that's not going to get any easier with the Lady Bears, Aggies and Sooners among so many other programs mining the Lone Star State for talent.

Texas loses the Nash sisters, Kat and Kristen, who finished their Texas careers. Kristen, who had originally opted to bypass her last season of eligibility to focus on her academic future, came back in December when Goestenkors asked her to return as Texas needed depth. Kristen came back after watching Texas struggle in a 92-77 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 12.

Kristen Nash wanted to give Texas another chance at Tennessee, but the Longhorns really didn't get enough help for her sister Saturday. Kat had 19 points and nine rebounds in her final game for Texas.

"We're really excited about the future," said Goestenkors, who will forge ahead despite the critics. "Obviously, Kat is going to be a big loss for us. However, I thought the freshmen got valuable minutes this year. You add in Cokie Reed, who was our go-to player in the post last year. That'll give us the inside presence that we really need."

Now Marquette, which can't match Tennessee in depth or firepower, will try to find some way to pull the upset.

"Their strength, their offensive power and rebounding are all great," Mitchell said of the Lady Vols. "We're going to prepare them well, and playing in the Big East has prepared us well for this kind of game with the competition that we see. Our players are excited for another opportunity to keep our season going."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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