Esteban BustillosManaging Editor
Humza KhanMercury Staff
For the first time in program history, the women’s basketball team hosted the first round of the NCAA tournament March 7-8. With two victories over Rhodes College and UT Tyler, the Comets advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The team opened up play in the first round by taking down Rhodes College 63-38 on March 7. After its win, the first national tournament victory in program history, the team had to turn around immediately to play UT Tyler the next day.
Tyler, who won the conference regular season title, lost to the Comets a week earlier in the ASC tournament championship game. In front of one of the largest crowds of the year, it was apparent the Patriots came to Richardson looking for revenge, opening up the game on an 8-0 run.
Defensively, Tyler put pressure on UTD up and down the court, causing the Comets to give up the ball eight times in the first half.
UTD looked sloppy in the opening minutes on offense and couldn’t seem to shake off Tyler’s pressing defense, but it eventually found its groove and was able to take the lead with just over 11 minutes left to go in the half.
Head coach Polly Thomason said coming back from a deficit was something the team had done all year.
“We play through adversity,” she said. “We play through bad things that happen through the course of the game. Teams are going to go on runs, things are not going to go our way through the course of the basketball game. So, it’s just kind of our philosophy to withstand it.”
One of the main reasons UTD was able to pull through was the effort of senior guard Iemah Wallace-Perry. She picked up a season-high 12 points in the first half, going 5 of 6 from the field including 6 points from beyond the arc. This helped to counterbalance the lack of scoring from senior guards Madi Hess and Christina Brosnahan, who both had zero points in the first half.
Heading into the half, Tyler led 36-35. After the break, the Comets looked like a brand new team. They came out of the gates swinging, going on a 12-4 run to open up the period.
Defensively, they were able to slow Brittany King, the Patriots’ leading scorer, coming out after the intermission. King, who had 13 points in the first half, was kept away from the basket for well over half of the second period.
On the offensive side, Wallace-Perry continued her output picking up another 10 points to finish with a career high 22 points.
She said she composed herself before the game knowing that it might be her last.
“Every time I get on the court, I just give it my all, play with my heart and just try to play smart,” she said.
As the game wore on, UTD continued to flex its offensive muscles, leading by as much as 9 points. The Patriots couldn’t be contained forever, however, and Tyler mounted a ferocious comeback.
King’s lack of scoring dissipated as she picked up 10 points in the final minutes. Behind her scoring and the play of sophomore forward Madison Wilson, who had 8 points in the final half, the Patriots tied the game 63 to 63 with 46 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, senior guard Amber Brown was able to lay it to put the Comets up 65-63. The Patriots gave King the ball on the other end of the floor, but right as she attempted to go up for the shot, she was called for a charge.
Forced to foul, Tyler hand-checked Brown, who went 1 for 2 from the charity stripe. Leading 66-63 with 13 seconds left, the Comets let King maneuver in the paint to score beneath the basket, putting Tyler within one point with 4 seconds left.
With no timeouts left for either team, the Comets inbounded to Hess, who was fouled with 2 seconds left on the game clock. All eyes were on the senior as she headed to the charity stripe.
“I was thinking ‘Please make your free throws. Knock them down,’” Thomason said.
Hess hit the first shot, but couldn’t sink the second. With two seconds left, King pulled down the rebound and heaved up a Hail Mary shot, but it fell short of the basket. After one of the hardest fought games of the year for the team, the Comets had earned a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
UTD finished the game with just two players who scored in double digits: Wallace-Perry and senior guard Amber Brown, who picked up 20 points. The team made up for the lack of scoring leaders with distribution, finishing the game with seven players with points.
Patriots head coach Kevin Baker said they challenged the Comets to shoot the ball throughout the game, something he said UTD was able to do regardless of Tyler’s defense.
“One of the things we said going into the game is that we had to make their guards make shots and they did and they did and they did,” he said. “What we wanted to do is make sure if they were going to beat us, they were going to beat us from the perimeter and they did that.”
The team will play its next game on March 13 against George Fox University — the third-highest ranked team in the nation — in Grand Rapids, Mich. Thomason said George Fox will be a tough opponent for the Comets.
After the game, she held back tears as she described her emotions following the win.
“That was the greatest moment of my coaching career to this date,” she said. “I was just proud of how this team battled and they fought…They never gave up. They got behind early and it’s just the character that they have inside them. I couldn’t be more proud of a team. I love coaching this group. I love being around them and I’m just thankful that I get another week with them and get to be on this floor.”
Correction: King was the highest game’s highest scorer. She finished with 23 points.