By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Basketball is their game, and they all play on the same team, but it has become clear in the last month or so that the UTSA Roadrunners are more than that. Way more. They’re a group of women who keep getting more remarkable by the day.
They started the season with a string of frustrating losses, and now here they are, one win away from playing for the Conference USA postseason title.
“Gosh, it’s hard to put into words how proud I am of this group,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said Thursday, after her sixth-seeded Roadrunners rallied from a 15-point, first-half deficit to stun the three-seed Rice Owls, 62-54, in the C-USA tournament quarterfinals.
With the victory, UTSA claimed its sixth win in a row and made a little bit of school history by winning for the second time in two days in the tournament being contested at The Star in Frisco.
Not only did the Roadrunners earn a spot in Friday night’s semifinals against the two-seed WKU Lady Toppers, but they also became the first UTSA women’s basketball team to win multiple games at a conference postseason tournament in 14 years.
The last one to do it? The Monica Gibbs-led 2009 Roadrunners, who swept three games in Katy to claim the Southland Conference postseason title and a No 15 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This time, it was Sidney Love, Kyra White, Jordyn Jenkins and others who created the magic. They stayed focused against the Owls even when it appeared as if they were more likely to be on the bus ride home to San Antonio later in the evening, rather than having dinner together and preparing a game-plan for the semifinals.
“The coaches said it in the locker room later,” Aston said. “The players kind of checked themselves at halftime. We didn’t play very well in the first half. We played … sort of how we played early in the year, and somewhere in the second half they sort of found themselves again. And remembered who they really are.
“I just thought we dug really deep,” the coach added. “Started to get stops. Obviously, got more aggressive. I thought Kyra and Sidney’s aggression in the second half was really the difference in the game. It opened up some stuff for the other players. So, really it was just a mindset. We changed our mindset in the second half.”
White, a junior guard from Judson, sat next to her coach in the postgame interviews and put her own spin on what she thought it was that changed for her teammates.
“The want to not go home,” she replied. “We just all wanted to be as connected as we could in the last 20 minutes and fight for one another. It’s too early to go home for us. So we just kept that in mind and kept (focusing) on the bigger picture.”
White’s inference might make some in the C-USA administration a bit nervous.
Could a team with a 13-18 record win two more games in Frisco and claim the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs? Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing, considering the talents of Jenkins, Love, White and others.
Jenkins, a 6-foot junior transfer from Southern Cal, brushed off foul trouble to finish with 22 points and seven rebounds. In the fourth quarter, the C-USA Player of the Year took over with 12 points, including nine in the last two minutes.
Backcourt mates Love and White also were very good when it mattered. Love had 11 of her 13 points in the fourth, including one stretch when she scored eight in a row. White finished her day with nine points, eight rebounds and five steals.
The 22-win Owls played well early, running off to a 29-14 lead with 3:56 left in the half. They also led 31-19 at intermission and 42-34 at the end of three quarters. But as it turned out, their tournament came to a close, as did their five-game winning streak.
India Bellamy and Ashlee Austin led Rice with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
C-USA women’s tournament
At The Star, in Frisco
Middle Tennessee State 84, Charlotte 53
UTEP 64, Louisiana Tech 54
WKU 71, UAB 67
UTSA 62, Rice 54
No. 1 Middle Tennessee (26-4) vs. No. 4 UTEP (20-10), 4:30 p.m.
No. 2 WKU (18-12) vs. No. 6 UTSA (13-18), 7 p.m.
Saturday’s championship game
Friday’s winners, 4:30 p.m.
The Roadrunners have had their struggles this season, starting out 2-7 in the nonconference phase of the schedule. Entering C-USA play, things didn’t get much better. They played the first half of a 20-game conference slate and put down a 2-8 record. In the second half, the Roadrunners started to click, winning seven of their last 10. Now that they’ve beaten Florida Atlantic and Rice on back-to-back days at the tournament, it means that since the last weekend of January, they are 9-3.