Johnson explodes for career game as UTRGV women’s basketball rallies past UTSA

EDINBURG — UTRGV women’s basketball sophomore Megan Johnson has worn an orange bow in her hair during every game this season. Her teammates gave her the idea after UTRGV’s second official practice of the season, when she inadvertently broke center Laura Van Tilburg’s nose with a head-butt.

Johnson’s appearance often belies her scrappy, gritty nature on the court, and her teammates thought a bow would only add to that contrast.

“Everyone always says I’m a little unsuspecting,” Johnson said. “I kind of come out of nowhere and hit people, and throw my body around a little bit on the court. They put the bow there to make me even more unsuspecting. That was the aim.”

Bow or otherwise, Johnson’s impact on Saturday was unmistakable. She scored a career-high 31 points with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and no turnovers as UTRGV erased a 17-point deficit to seal a 70-58 win against UTSA on Saturday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.

Johnson connected on 12 of 20 shots from the field and converted her only 3-pointer, attacking the basket on seemingly every trip down the court.

“She’s a winner, there is no question,” Tidwell said. “I tell her this every day: ‘I wish I had 15 like her.’ She hustles on every drill, and she tries to be perfect on everything we do. Just a great kid.”

Johnson entered the night averaging just 5.6 points per game. She had scored only 23 points in her previous seven games combined, and her 31-point output more than doubles her previous career high of 15. The last player to score 31 points for UTRGV was Shawnte’ Goff, who graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer last year. Even she hit 31 just once: against Houston Baptist on Nov. 29, 2014.

In six games from Nov. 14 through Nov. 29, Johnson’s highest scoring output was 3 points. She started to round back into form on Friday, scoring 10 in a win against UMass. Tidwell said Johnson’s confidence “went out the roof” as shots started to fall on Saturday, and Johnson said she slowed down on Saturday and wasn’t trying to rush on offense.

“I’ve been building through the games,” Johnson said. “My coaches have really been wanting me to get more confidence and encouraging me. I know they have that confidence in me, and I just needed to get that in myself. This weekend was good for me in that sense.”

Johnson scored 23 points after halftime, helping UTRGV outscore UTSA 42-17 during the final 20 minutes. The rally was highlighted by an 18-1 run from late in the third quarter until 3:08 remained in the fourth, as UTRGV turned an 8-point deficit into an 8-point lead.

UTSA failed to hit a field goal in 15 attempts and scored just 5 points during the fourth quarter, matching the lowest total UTRGV has held an opponent to in a quarter this season. The defensive lockdown marked a stark turnaround from the opening quarter, when UTSA scored 24 points. UTRGV had only once previously allowed an opponent to score that many points in a quarter this year, giving up 24 in the second quarter of an 80-38 loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 17.

“It’s just effort and pride,” Tidwell said. “Those kids had pride tonight. They wanted to come back.”

UTSA was without leading rebounder Marie Benson, who averages 13.8 points and 10.3 boards per game.

Tidwell said UTRGV continued to apply pressure and wore down shorthanded UTSA during the final 20 minutes. Johnson said communication was lacking during the first half but improved down the stretch.

“We wanted it,” Johnson said. “We went into halftime and we spoke about it. Instead of turning around and being like, ‘Oh no, we’re down 13,’ we turned around and said, ‘This is a doable thing. We’re a good team. We’re better than what we’re playing.’ We communicated, we fixed the things we wanted to do, and we wanted it. We worked for it.”

Quynne Huggins, UTRGV’s leading scorer on Friday with 17 points, added 17 more on Saturday.

Huggins said she fed off of Johnson’s energy.

“We kind of made a little pact about making our little vibe, making our own ball of energy between the two of us,” Huggins said. “Once I saw her putting everything out on the floor, I was going along with it, and we both were able to do what we needed to do together.”