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Longhorns hook Bruins, advance to Elite 8 to face UConn

The two and three seeds in the Bridgeport Region battled back and forth in the Sweet 16, in a game that had eight lead changes. The Texas Longhorns held off the UCLA Bruins, and advance to their first Elite 8 since 2003.

Chris Posh-Swish Appeal

Bridgeport, CT -- The UCLA Bruins were a perfect 21-0 in games this season in which they lead at halftime. The Texas Longhorns snapped that streak in the Bridgeport Regional Semifinal when they beat the Bruins, 72-64, after trailing by five at the intermission.

The Longhorns will play in a Regional Final for the first time since 2003. Texas lost in the Sweet 16 last year to the team they will play in the Elite 8 this year: UConn.

Monique Billings and Jordin Canada lead all scorers with 20 points each. Billings added 12 rebounds in the Bruins loss.

Imani Boyette scored 11 of her 18 points in the second half, and grabbed nine of her ten rebounds after halftime to help lift her team to the win. Brooke McCarty scored 15.

Neither team could get any separation in the first five minutes of the game, but UCLA managed to put together a 9-2 run to end the quarter and take a six point lead into the second.

Texas would not go away easily, scoring the first six points of the second quarter, cutting the Bruins lead to two. The game of runs continued for UCLA, who this time responded with an 8-0 spurt to take a ten-point lead, their largest of the first half.

"I think in the first half we were more aggressive," Canada said. "In the second half, Texas adjusted to being more aggressive and took us out of the sets that were working for us, so credit to them."

The Longhorns would go into the locker room only down five, and actually managed to outscore the Bruins in the second quarter. Monique Billings lead all scorers at the intermission with 11 points, and was one rebound shy of a double-double at the break.

The second half began with some sloppy play by both teams. Texas scored the first four points of the third quarter, and began the half on a 12-4 run that gave them a three-point lead about four minutes in.

UCLA would score the next eight points, and would re-take the lead on a Kari Korver three-pointer from the wing in what would be Korver's only basket of the game. Boyette started to impact the game down low for the Longhorns, scoring back-to-back buckets while also grabbing three rebounds in the quarter.

"No one really spoke to me about rebounding (more in the second half), but I knew I wasn't being a strong presence on the boards like I should've been," Boyette said. "I was trying to make a conscience effort to get on the boards in the second half, and keep Monique Billings occupied and off the boards."

The Bruins were able to maintain the advantage they had on the scoreboard, thanks to a Canada 18-foot fadeaway that beat the buzzer. UCLA lead by six heading into the fourth, but that lead quickly disappeared.

Texas opened the final quarter with four quick points, thanks to a momentum-changing steal and put back by Lashann Higgs. The Longhorns really picked up their defensive intensity, and that, along with Boyette continuing her solid play, allowed Texas to retake the lead.

The Longhorns scored the first ten points of the fourth quarter, and lead 58-54. Texas would never trail again, and would lead by as many as eight in the final period. It was a tale of two halves for Boyette, who struggled with foul trouble in the first half.

"A lot of it for (Boyette) is the evolution of her mindset," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "She's matured, as our whole team has. She's learned some lessons all year long, and she's had a much higher level of maturity as far as handling foul trouble, like knowing when to back off a little bit and give a player some space."

The win for Texas sets them up with a rematch against the team that knocked them out of last year's tournament. UConn crushed the Longhorns in the Albany Regional Semifinal, 105-54, and Aston says she knows her players will be ready to take another crack at beating the Huskies.

"I think that we would not have played as hard we did today, with the competitiveness we played with today, had we not wanted the opportunity to play UConn (Monday)," Aston said.