CBut overall, the second-seeded Longhorns 73-60 victory over the sixth-seeded Gophers was more due to the big play of their smaller players.
Guards Jamie Carey, Tai Dillard and Nina Norman combined for 41 points and did more than their part toward the end of the game as the Longhorns (28-5) advanced to the Elite Eight to face first-seeded LSU on Tuesday.
“You can’t play without guards or have too many guards,” Texas coach Jody Conradt said. “This time of the season is really about guard play. I really think Stephens and McCarville canceled each other out and that’s how I thought it would be.”
Carey, who transferred from Stanford before this season, led all players with 18 points and came up huge for her team in her return to Maples Pavilion.
The freshman Norman provided a second-half spark for the Longhorns, scoring 13 points after the break and finishing with 15.
“I knew (Carey and Norman) would create problems for us,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “Carey hurt us in the first half and Norman in the second. I was hoping Norman wouldn’t come off the bench as much as she did, and we couldn’t contain her.”
Heather Schreiber added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Stephens fouled out late in the game with just eight points and five rebounds.
While McCarville was held to 10 points and 12 rebounds, senior center Kim Prince led the Gophers (25-6) with 15 points in her final game.
Lindsay Whalen posted 13 points and eight rebounds, and senior Corrin Von Wald added 14.
Von Wald got things going early in the second half for the Gophers, hitting a three-pointer and then finishing a three-point play with a free throw to tie the game at 34.
Freshman Shannon Schonrock gave Minnesota its first lead since midway through the first half at 39-37, knocking down a three-pointer with a defender in her face four minutes into the second stanza.
Moments later, Texas shut down the Gophers defensively and opened up a 49-42 lead with a 10-1 run.
After Whalen fed a streaking McCarville to make the score 53-50 with 7:42 remaining, the pace became feverish. The Longhorns scored eight quick points and took advantage of a pair of defensive lapses by the Gophers to stretch the lead to 61-52 with 6:01 remaining.
Minnesota hoped a timeout would stop the defensive bleeding, and it did.
But its offense couldn’t muster the strength to forge a comeback. The normally reliable Von Wald and McCarville each missed a pair of free throws within a minute of each other and the Gophers trailed 62-54 with 2:30 left.
“They made it hard for us to set up our offense,” Whalen said. “We let their pressure get to us a little bit, and they played great defense.”
Minnesota drew to within six points on a pair of Whalen free throws.
But Texas responded by building its biggest lead of the game at 66-56 on a pair of Kala Bowers free throws with 1:57 remaining.
In the final two-plus minutes, the Longhorns guards made 7-of-8 free throws, and the team went 11-for-12 as a whole to seal the deal and end the Gophers’ season.
Both teams came out smoking in the first half. Each team scored on its first three possessions, and Minnesota led by as many as five points at 13-8.
McCarville got things going early, scoring the first basket of the game on a layup and sitting down seven minutes into the game with six points, a huge block of Stephens, and several nifty rebounds.
The Gophers defense started locking in just as the offense began to grind to a halt midway through the first half. The Gophers went over five minutes without notching a digit, but Texas was only able to open a 23-19 lead in the meantime.
Prince provided most of Minnesota’s offense for the latter part of the first half, breaking the scoreless string and tallying seven straight points to keep the Gophers within striking distance.
The Longhorns opened up their biggest lead of the half in the 19th minute thanks to Carey, who had six points in the final four minutes and hit a free throw to make the score 34-26 with 36 seconds left.
Von Wald then narrowed the gap with a drive and layup, and the teams headed into the locker room with the score at 34-28.
“We gave it all we had, so it’s kind of frustrating,” Von Wald said. “I don’t think we had the fight in us like we did versus Stanford.”
As a result, the Gophers first trip to the Sweet Sixteen marked both a program first and the last game of the season.
Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]