This item originally appeared in the March 25, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.
By LUKE DEROUEN
Associate Sports Editor
The Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters mounted the shoulders of Erica Smith-Taylor and her back-to-back career performances to defeat Texas Tech 81-64 Monday night, and Montana 81-77 Saturday, in Missoula, Mont., and advance to the Sweet 16.
The junior guard scored a combined 59 points in the two victories, sending the Techsters to Norfolk, Va., where they will face the winner of top-seeded Duke and ninth seed Marquette in the semifinals of the Mideast Regional.
"I'm just playing 110 percent and doing what I can do," Smith-Taylor said. "I play as hard as I can and let the game come to me. It's win or go home, and nobody wants to go home."
Monday's game began as promised, with both the Techsters and the Lady Raiders maintaining a fast pace up and down the court.
Smith-Taylor soothed Tech fans when she buried her first three-point attempt only seconds into the game, proving she was ready to match her performance from two nights earlier.
Smith-Taylor's three gave the Techsters an early edge, but it would soon be overcome by the Lady Raiders, who shared the lead multiple times with the Techsters throughout the first 10 minutes.
The Techsters, who entered the game first in the nation in steals per game (15), and second in the nation in turnovers per game (25), were dealt a taste of their own medicine early in the game, as four turnovers in the first five minutes led to easy Texas Tech baskets.
Texas Tech's sophomore sensation Erin Grant capitalized on most of the Techster's early miscues, slashing through holes in the defense during the first half, where she scored all 19 of her points.
After shooting a miserable 8-21 in the first 13 minutes, the Techster's relentless defense began to pay off, resulting in easier opportunities on the offensive side.
With two minutes left in the half, both Smith-Taylor and Lakiste Barkus drained three-pointers, giving the Techsters a 43-33 lead at halftime.
"We went in at half and said if we let Erin Grant score 19 more, we're going to get beat," Tech coach Kurt Budke said. "We offered more help from the wings. We tried to clog it up and have her shoot eight-footers instead of two-footers."
Despite being down by 10, the Lady Raiders came out of the locker room on fire, cutting the lead to six with two quick baskets.
The jolt of energy quickly died out for Texas Tech as Smith-Taylor answered with four quick points to regain the big lead for the Techsters.
Amisha Carter, who had been suffering from shooting woes, chimed in with back-to-back steals at mid-court to widen the margin.
The Techsters showed their tenacity while scrounging up nearly every rebound and loose ball, out-rebounding Texas Tech 47-37 and building a commanding 65-48 lead with 10:30 remaining.
With time winding down, the Lady Raiders were forced to fire way from three-point range, while the Techsters picked up the numerous misses and ran the clock out for the victory.
Smith-Taylor finished the game with a career-high 30 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and the respect she deserved from long-time Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp.
"I do think she is one of the best wing players in the country," Sharp said. "She certainly had a great weekend. She is so quick to the rim and shoots the three so well. She is a weapon."
Amber Obaze hit key outside shots for the Techsters, recording 14 points.
Joining Smith-Taylor and Obaze in double figures were Carter and Trina Frierson, who scored 13 points each from their post positions.
"This team, with three seniors, expected to get to the Sweet 16," Budke said.
The Techsters nearly spoiled their chance to play Texas Tech, as they narrowly escaped No. 12 seed Montana on their home court on Saturday.
Smith-Taylor recorded a then career-high 29 points in the victory, one which looked grim with the Techsters trailing 60-49 with 10:26 remaining.
Smith-Taylor recorded 14 points in the final 10 minutes, mixing her deadly three-point accuracy with her post abilities.
"It's desperation," Smith-Taylor said. "We had the mentality of do or die. We didn't want to go home so we left it all on the court. That's what we did to be successful and get the victory."
Smith-Taylor not only scored to help the Techsters in their comeback, she had consecutive steals with less than 2:30 remaining, leading to an assist to Barkus and a lay-up of her own to take a one-point lead, capping the remarkable comeback.
Obaze sealed the victory, making three free throws after being fouled behind the arc.
The Techsters defeated the Montana squad 81-77 before an energetic Montana crowd of 7,413.
With the Texas Tech victory, the Techsters took possession of the nation's longest current winning streak at 21 games.