COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—All those hours of drudgery shooting free throws paid off for Mississippi State.
Alexis Rack was perfect in eight trips to the foul line down the stretch, and the Lady Bulldogs were 21 of 22 as a team in beating Texas 71-63 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” said Rack, who had 20 points for her 13th consecutive game in double figures. “We shoot 100 free throws in practice. I felt like I was at practice. I felt comfortable and just focused.”
Chanel Mokango scored 15 points and Mary Kathryn Govero added 11 off the bench for the Lady Bulldogs (23-9), who blew an 11-point lead with 5 minutes left before hanging on.
Earnesia Williams had 17 points, Brittainey Raven 15 and Kathleen Nash 11 for Texas (21-12), making its 23rd NCAA trip, tied for third-most. The Lady Longhorns closed the season with losses in seven of their last nine games.
Mississippi State, which shot 69 percent at the line coming in, broke a tie at 59 on Mokango’s short jumper, then scored their final 10 points on foul shots — in as many attempts.
“I said down the stretch that the best shot to take was a foul shot,” Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said.
The Lady Bulldogs missed their first free throw of the game before making the next 21.
The game figured to be a close one between the sixth-seeded Longhorns and 11th-seeded Lady Bulldogs. Each team started the season 11-0, each lost for the first time on Dec. 30, and each had an up-and-down season before getting at-large bids into the Berkeley Regional.
Rack hit just 3-of-11 shots from the field but made all 13 foul shots.
Trailing 34-24 at the half, Texas used a 9-0 run built on five points by Raven, including a 3 from the left wing with 3:50 left to cut the lead to 57-55.
Tate hit a follow to end the Texas surge, but the Longhorns came right back on two foul shots by Raven and Ashleigh Fontenette’s bank shot in the paint to tie it at 59 with 2:15 left.
Mokango put MSU right back on top with a short jumper over the fingertips of Ashley Gayle. After a Texas turnover, the Lady Bulldogs relied on their sudden marksmanship to pull away at the line.
Rack was the exception for Mississippi state during the season, a cool customer at the line, where she hit 83 percent.
She made four in a row to push the lead to 65-59, then later hit four more in a row. Armelie Lumanu, who also had 10 rebounds for the Lady Bulldogs, closed the scoring with two in as many chances in the final seconds.
“They just did a great job, with their rebounding—they rebounded the heck out of the ball—and hitting free throws,” said Texas coach Gail Goestenkors. “In a tight game, those are two big factors.”
Mississippi State had taken control with a rapid-fire 12-0 burst late in the opening half.
Rack poured in a 3 from the left corner off an inbounds pass before Mokango caught nothing but net on a jumper from the free-throw line. After a timeout, Govero worked her way behind the Texas defense and took a long pass from Rack for a layup.
After Mokango’s steal, Govero hit a layup off a feed from Lumanu. Then Rack hit a shot and was fouled, completing the three-point play for a 30-19 advantage.