By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
What the UTSA Roadrunners may have lacked in artistic style, they made up for with gritty determination on Wednesday afternoon at The Star in Frisco.
Freshman Sidney Love hit two free throws with six seconds left, lifting the sixth-seeded Roadrunners to a 69-68 victory over the No. 11 Florida Atlantic University Owls at the Conference USA tournament.
Love produced 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as UTSA won its tournament opener and advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinals against the Rice Owls.
“This game was exactly like I thought it would be,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “Two teams that were pretty evenly matched…Really, really super even. Both teams I thought played their hearts out.”
UTSA was off its game early, turning the ball over with unforced errors to allow last-place FAU to stay close.
“There was a little bit of an ebb and flow to it,” Aston said. “As far as turnovers were concerned, maybe the difference in the game might have been us not turning it over in the second half near as much.”
With C-USA Player of the Year Jordyn Jenkins of UTSA in foul trouble, FAU led by one point going into the second quarter.
Just before halftime, Love hit three straight baskets for the Roadrunners, who went into halftime leading 28-24.
In the second half, Jenkins started to find a rhythm and UTSA threatened on a few occasions to run away with it.
Back-to-back threes by Jenkins and Siena Guttadauro lifted the Roadrunners into a 12-point lead midway through the third.
After fending off an FAU push, UTSA answered with its own surge, forging a 10-point advantage in with seven minutes remaining when Kyra White drilled a long three off the wing.
Down the stretch, the Owls would not fold, as guard Alexa Zaph stroked her fifth t of triple of the game.
Another big play for FAU came when Joiya Maddox tied the score on a three-point play.
Then, as the clocked ticked under one minute, the Owls followed with another brazen attack on the basket. Forward Janeta Rosentale drove the right side of the paint for a go-ahead bucket with 15 seconds left.
Trailing by one at that point, the Roadrunners called time, got themselves organized and put the ball in Love’s hands.
The former standout at San Antonio-area Steele High School promptly drove into the paint and was fouled. She made both free throws with 6.2 seconds left to boost the Roadrunners’ winning streak to five games.
Not bad for a player in her first collegiate postseason game.
Love said in a zoom interview that the game is easier for her now than it was back in November and December.
“It’s just ‘play basketball’ and don’t over-think anything,” she said. “Don’t worry about too much. With tournament play, it’s even more thrilling. I just want to do the best for my team.”
For FAU, Zaph was pretty thrilling herself. She scored 19 points and hit five of seven from beyond the arc.
Hubbard, also one of the conference’s top freshmen, scored 17 on five of 15 shooting. In the end, the Owls (12-18) couldn’t close it out against the Roadrunners (12-18) and lost their ninth game in a row.
Jenkins, who led C-USA in scoring with a 21.1-point average, finished with 18 points in only 22 minutes.
As usual, the junior transfer from USC was efficient, as she knocked down seven of 11 shots from the field.
At the end, Jenkins set the table for Love with two big plays, scoring from the low post with two minutes left and then sinking two free throws with 34 seconds remaining.
“We really honestly just played good enough to win,” Aston said. “I told them before the game, when you get into tournament play it doesn’t have to be pretty.
“You know, you’re trying to win. Whatever you have to do, to do that. I thought they took that to heart, and, I’m just super proud.
“We won a game here last year, and you want to build on that and have a chance to win more than one. We’ve given ourselves a chance to do that now.”
C-USA women’s tournament
At The Star, in Frisco
Charlotte 72, FIU 59
UAB 75, North Texas 71
UTSA 69, Florida Atlantic 68
No. 1 Middle Tennessee State (25-4) vs. No. 9 Charlotte (12-18), 11 a.m.
No. 4 UTEP (19-10) vs. No. 5 Louisiana Tech (19-11), 11:30 a.m.
No. 2 WKU (17-12) vs. No. 10 UAB (14-16), 1:30 p.m.
No. 3 Rice (22-7) vs. No. 6 UTSA (12-18), 2 p.m.