Eyes of Texas: Capacity crowd watches UTRGV women battle, fall to 12th-ranked Texas

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Quynne Huggins (11) and University of Texas' Joyner Holmes (24) battle for position under the net in a non-conference game at the UTRGV Fieldhouse on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — UTRGV senior Idil Türk knocked down her team’s ninth three-pointer with 8:58 to play in the third quarter. The Vaqueros had pulled to within one point of their visitors, the No. 12 University of Texas Longhorns. 

The close contest for the majority of the night and the Vaqueros impressive 14 for 30 shooting performance from behind the arc was not the takeaway from the evening.

Instead, it was the electric atmosphere of 2,655 fans in attendance to watch UTRGV take on the central Texas powerhouse program. 

UT eventually pulled away for an 81-66 victory at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg.

“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve never seen a crowd like this here ever before,” said Türk, who finished with 17 points. “It was amazing. Every time we hit a three, they were just all cheering, so loud. It was just a great atmosphere.”

It was the first time the Longhorns traveled to the Valley in eight all-time meetings. UT improved to 8-0 in the series.

Quynne Huggins was a big reason the raucous crowd of Valley basketball fans young and old alike had something to cheer about. Huggins hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored a career-best 25 points.

She made five from downtown and recorded 17 points by halftime.

“In warm-ups I kind of gained a little confidence with my shot. I know I’ve been struggling earlier in the season with my shot,” Huggins said. “I just tried to push that to the back of my mind. In the game, it was just a clean slate.” 

UT used its unmatched height as an advantage all evening. Six players on are 6-feet or taller; four of those players are over 6-feet-3

Jatarie White, who is 6-foot-4 led the Horns with 20 points and 12 rebounds for her third double-double of the season.

After Türk hit the shot to make the game 41-40 in favor of the Longhorns, UT went on a 15-0 run to steer clear of the Vaqueros. 

First-year UTRGV coach Lane Lord was happy to see his team stick around one of the nation’s best.

“We played amazing,” Lord said. “A lot of toughness, a lot of guts. You’re playing the 12-ranked team in the country and to execute the way we did, I couldn’t be more proud of our group. If we play like that every night we’re going to be awfully good in the WAC.”

UT Forward Joyner Holmes had 15 points while junior point guard Sug Sutton had 13 points, most of those buckets came during the second-half surge. 

UTRGV cut the lead to nine at 67-58 midway through the fourth quarter before UT’s Destiny Littleton came in clutch for the Longhorns and sank consecutive threes to pad the Horns lead and prevent UTRGV from staying within single digits. 

Seventh-year Texas coach Karen Aston was complimentary of the crowd, community and host team’s effort after her team’s unusual road game.

The game was set up between Aston and former UTRGV/UTPA coach Larry Tidwell, who is now women’s basketball chief of staff at Texas Tech. 

“I want to really thank (the) community for the way they came out and supported women’s basketball today,” Aston said. “Obviously, this game was created by coach Tidwell before he left. I appreciate this because he loves women’s basketball. He did this because he loved the community out here. This was his baby. I thought it was really fun, it was an old-school environment for me. Rio Grande played like it meant something to them.”

Both coaches made note of the amount of youth support in the crowd. Young ballers from as close as Edinburg High School and from as far away as Brownsville Pace filled the Fieldhouse, wearing their colors and were treated to an entertaining contest.

“I thought it was awesome just to the point that there were so many high school girls here watching us play,” Aston said. “I really think that was the point of all this, to try to grow the game. What I would think is the whole community needs to watch that team play all the time. It doesn’t just need to be because Texas was in town. There’s room for women’s basketball down here.”

UTRGV’s coach echoed some of those sentiments and was happy to see so many local players watch a program they one day could be a part of. UTRGV has two RGV high school products on their roster. Daniella Azubell (Edinburg Vela) and Valeria Tapia (Brownsville St. Joseph). 

“Trying to grow the game in the Valley is one of the goals we have as a staff,” Lord said. “To have these junior high girls teams and high school girls team really from all over the Valley, not just the Edinburg-McAllen but Harlingen and Brownsville, that’s special. Our administration did one heck of a job to pull this off.”

 

nmata@themonitor.com