Trina Torres is one of five graduating seniors on the women's basketball team. Photo courtesy of Todd Kent.
Trina Torres is one of five graduating seniors on the women’s basketball team. Photo courtesy of Todd Kent.

The UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team lost to the University of Texas-Tyler Patriots 83-64 in its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. The Slugs, who clinched the Great South Athletic Conference championship, put their 15-11 record to the test against the 27-1 American Southwest Conference champions on March 4.

Freshman guard Katie Young and center Madison Van Zandt led the Slugs offense with 15 points a piece in their tournament debuts. Down by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, Young cut the lead to six after her layup with about seven minutes remaining. But the team’s late surge was not enough.

“We had a couple of untimely turnovers that led to breakaway scoring opportunities and defensive breakdowns,” said UCSC head coach Todd Kent. “If we cut down on those mental mistakes, the game could have gone differently.”

When Van Zandt and starting forward Trina Torres got into foul trouble in the second quarter, the Slugs transitioned away from their interior play, which affected the team’s rotation. The Patriots took advantage of the temporarily wounded internal presence by bullying UCSC in the paint. Texas-Tyler scored 42 points inside compared to 20 by the Slugs.

“By the time we settled into the game, we just dug ourselves too deep a hole to climb out of,” Torres said.

While both teams shot around 40 percent from the field and about 30 percent of their three-pointers, Texas-Tyler forced 23 turnovers and profited with 26 points.

“It was challenging to say the least,” Young said. “They are an excellent team that presented several mismatches that we had to deal with so we knew we had to bring our A-game to succeed, but we lost our composure as the game went on.”

Though this game was a big “first” for the women’s basketball squad, it also marked the last game for five seniors.

“It was incredibly exciting to make school history,” said starting senior forward Ashley Holmes. “The seniors and I get to graduate knowing we left a legacy. Not many people can say that, and it’s one of those things we will remember forever.”

Kent plans to focus on the team’s offensive fundamentals this offseason and improve the speed and strength of his roster. With four returning team captains next season, paired with returners’ tournament experience, expectations are high for next year’s team.