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Women's basketball: UNT stuns Louisiana Tech to extend run in C-USA tourney

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

FRISCO -- The best stories in March, at least when it comes to college basketball, are Cinderella tales of teams that find their form at just the right time and make a run.

North Texas is making a pretty good case that it's just that type of team following a 76-69 win over Louisiana Tech in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament Thursday at the Ford Center.

UNT entered the 12-team event as the No. 11 seed after losing its last three games of the regular season. 

And yet, here are the Mean Green, still alive heading into Friday's semifinals after pulling off two straight upsets, including its stunning win over the Lady Techsters, the No. 3 seed.

UNT's run began Wednesday when the it upset Charlotte, the No. 6 seed. The Mean Green are hoping that run will continue Friday when they take on their biggest challenge yet, an 8 p.m. showdown with Western Kentucky, a traditional C-USA power and the No. 2 seed.

"Passion, fire and hope fuel you at this point of the season," UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said. "You have to feed off of those things. Our team fights and fights together."

UNT showed that fight down the stretch. The Mean Green also showed a deft touch at the free throw line.

UNT led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter but was forced to hang on in the closing moments after Louisiana Tech (19-11) pulled within four points three times in the fourth.

The Mean Green had an answer each time, thanks largely to a near perfect run at the line. 

UNT went 13-for-14 at the free throw line in the final 2:24 and went 25-of-28 for the game. Trena Mims and Terriell Bradley combined to go 17-of-17 at the line and hit 10 of UNT's 13 free throws down the stretch.

Mims hit all six of her attempts in that closing run that included two from Grace Goodhart with 36 seconds remaining. Goodhart's pair essentially put the game away after Tech had pulled to within 69-65 with 1:04 remaining on an Anna McLeod 3.

"I was confident at the line," Mims said. "We practice free throws. I know what myself and my teammates can do."

UNT (17-13) added a few more milestones in what is quickly becoming one of the best seasons in recent program history thanks to its performance at the line against Louisiana Tech (19-11). UNT had lost all 12 games in its series with the Lady Techsters entering Thursday.

UNT also broke through to win a second game in a conference tournament for the first time since 2002, when Mitchell wrapped up her UNT Athletic Hall of Fame playing career.

"We've dreamed about these opportunities and set these goals," Mitchell said. "We are playing [Friday], which is huge."

UNT extended its stay in the tournament and cemented its status as the surprise team in the event thanks to one of its better -- and more balanced -- offensive performances of the season.

Mims led UNT with a career-high 19 points. Bradley added 18. All nine players who saw time for UNT scored.

Alexus Malone scored a game-high 27 points for Louisiana Tech.

"We didn't guard very well," Tech coach Brooke Stoehr said. "Their ability to attack us and us not being able to handle the ball screen action were to our detriment."

UNT got into the lane over and over while ripping off a 15-2 run that spanned the first and second quarters. The burst was the difference in the game.

The Mean Green trailed 16-13 when Micayla Buckner got lose in the paint for a layup. Adrianna Henderson gave UNT the lead with a layup a short time later, and UNT was off and running.

Henderson scored seven of her nine points and hit a 3 during UNT's run, which Deja Terrell capped with a layup for a 28-18 lead.

UNT held Tech without a field goal for nearly six minutes during the run and posted one of its best offensive halves of the season. The Mean Green shot 54 percent (15-of-28) from the floor and hit all but one of their nine free throws before halftime.

"Their team was extremely fired up to play from the tip and played with a lot of emotion and energy,"  Stoehr said. "We didn't defend very well in the first half and didn't have a lot about us. Their energy and effort were greater than ours."

Louisiana Tech regained its form in the second half, and UNT found itself in a close game down the stretch for the second straight day.

The Mean Green hung on in the closing moments of a 58-55 win over Charlotte in the opening round and came up with a second straight clutch performance late against Tech.

"The close game against Charlotte helped a lot," Mims said. "We knew what we had to do to win this game. We came out strong in the second half and were able to close it out."

UNT cemented its status as a surprise team.

"That is what you want to be doing at this time of the season," Mitchell said. "You want to be playing your best. 

"People may not have thought we'd be in this position when we came in on a three-game losing streak. To win two against two great teams is great. We will bring our best again [Friday]. Hopefully we will be playing on Saturday."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

North Texas 76, Louisiana Tech 69

NORTH TEXAS (17-13) - Bradley 5-15 8-8 18, Buckner 2-5 0-0 4, Goodhart 3-10 2-2 9, Smith 3-4 1-3 7, Mims 5-8 9-9 19, Henderson 3-5 2-2 9, Poland 0-0 1-2 1, Terrell 2-4 0-0 4, Holmes 1-2 2-2 5. Totals 24-53 25-28 76.

LOUISIANA TECH (19-11) - Cleaver 7-9 1-4 15, Malone 5-12 16-18 27 , Lang 0-2 0-0 0, Anthony 4-11 1-1 9, Stahly 3-9 0-0 7, Guinto 0-0 0-0 0, Dixon 0-3 0-0 0, McCutcheon 0-0 0-0 0, McLeod 4-5 0-0 11, McDonald 0-1 0-0 0, Whitney 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 18-23 69.

North Texas 21 20 16 19 -- 76
Louisiana Tech 18 11 21 19 -- 69

Three-point goals - UNT 3-11 (Bradley 0-3, Goodhart 106, Henderson 1-1, Holmes 1-1) Louisiana Tech 5-17 (Malone 1-5, Lang 0-1, Anthony 0-2, Stahly 1-6, McLeod 3-3) Fouled out - Buckner, Terrell, Lang Rebounds - UNT 35 (Buckner 10), Louisiana Tech - 28 (Malone 8) Assists - UNT 12 (two tied, 3) Louisiana Tech 17 (Malone 6) Total fouls - UNT 17, Louisiana Tech 26. A - NA.