It’s no secret the injury bug has infected the Longhorns this season, or that it’s affected their team identity through 16 games.
Karen Aston’s squad in the 2018–19 campaign has been sporadic to say the least. After playing perhaps its best basketball of the season on Dec. 9 in a heartbreaking loss to Tennessee, they returned the next week by giving a performance that resulted in Aston stating, “I wouldn’t say that we’ve found our identity yet.”
Saturday afternoon was no exception to the Longhorns’ rollercoaster of a season.
Since the start of Big 12 play, Texas games have had one commonality: just win.
After escaping their last two games against West Virginia and Oklahoma, Texas traveled to Iowa State expecting yet another dog fight with the No. 20 Cyclones.
While the Longhorns have won their last three meetings with the Iowa State, they’ve not been with ease. In fact, the Cyclones handed the Longhorns their last home defeat to an unranked opponent back in 2017.
For the second game in a row, the story of the first half was the Longhorns ability to weather the storm. On Wednesday night, it was Oklahoma’s uber-aggressive defense and shooting. On Saturday, it was withstanding Iowa State’s second quarter.
Texas held the explosive Cyclones to just 13 second quarter points, a team that has averaged nearly 27 points in the second quarter alone.
“We stepped up,” Aston said. “(Iowa State) went on that run (to go up by eight) and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Here we go,’ and we stepped up. We toughened up a little bit.”
Sug Sutton found herself in the spotlight once again in the Longhorns 64-62 victory, turning out a near triple-double performance with her career-high 24 points to go along with ten rebounds and seven assists.
“I just came in with a different mentality, it’s very hard to play here. (Iowa State) has a great crowd, a great fanbase,” Sutton said. “I just knew that I had to make plays for my team and just do whatever I had to do to get this win tonight.”
The game was a defensive slugfest from start to finish. Iowa State, a team that has averaged 82 points per game, were held to just 34 percent shooting from the field and a mere 28 first half points.
“I challenged (the team) at halftime,” Aston said. “Joyner (Holmes) really looked lost in the first half, and she made some huge plays in this game. She grew up a little bit, as our team did.”
On the other side of the court, senior guard Bridget Carleton continued to be a thorn in the Longhorns’ side for most of the night, adding in a near double-double of her own with 20 points and nine rebounds.
After an impressive third quarter in which the Longhorns led by as many as 13 points, Iowa State found ways to claw back into the game and eventually tied the game at 58 with 3:20 left.
After Sutton nailed the go-ahead jumper with 2:45 remaining, Holmes secured a crucial defensive rebound, which eventually led to a Destiny Littleton layup to put Texas back up by four.
Following a frantic exchange of scoring plays around the one minute mark, with the Longhorns leading 64-62, Sutton found herself holding the ball with the opportunity to sink the dagger into the Cyclones’ comeback efforts. It looked like a fitting end, as the junior leader had turned in only the second double-double of her career, although Sutton missed with an airball to give Iowa State the ball back with 13 seconds remaining.
Following a sequence of intentional fouls to drain the clock, Alexa Middleton drove to the basket with eight seconds remaining only to have her shot blocked out of bounds by Holmes.
With five seconds remaining, and one final attempt for Iowa State, Carleton took a shot to tie the game but clanked it off the rim as Texas held on for the 64-62 victory.
“We knew we had to come in here with a dog mentality,” Sutton said. “I told the team that (Ames) is not an easy place to win at. Everybody took on their role, and I’m really proud of this team.”