Only one word could accurately describe what happened to the Longhorns on their Jan. 16 visit to Manhattan, Kansas: meltdown.
After their 18-point defeat to a Kansas State team which now sits sixth in the Big 12, Texas returned to Manhattan last Friday with the intent of proving their previous trip was a fluke.
However, in front of a crowd decked out in pink for Texas’ Shoot for a Cure game raising breast cancer awareness, the Longhorns had some trouble proving anyone wrong, falling 69-60 to the Wildcats.
“The crowd was terrific tonight,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “I always feel bad (after a home loss) because we feel like we let our crowd down, and I definitely think we did that tonight.”
Texas started the game the way it has started most games this year; with a turnover, one of eight the Longhorns had in the first.
But despite the abundance of turnovers, the hot hand of guard Destiny Littleton carried an otherwise lifeless Texas squad. Littleton had 15 of the Longhorns’ 26 first-half points, hitting improbable shots time and time again.
After hitting a one-handed turnaround jump shot while being double-teamed along the baseline with 40 seconds remaining, the game looked like hers to own.
Down just a point at the halftime break despite committing nine first-half turnovers and shooting 30 percent from the field, it appeared Littleton would be Aston’s X-factor in another sloppy nail-biter.
The second half was a different story.
Texas started the second half on a shocking 15-to-1 run, taking a 14-point lead and playing the most defined version of “team basketball” that Texas fans have seen this season.
But as Aston said time and time again, Texas was unable to “stick the knife in.”
“We got into a pretty good flow there in the third quarter and our defense let us down, as it has both times that we’ve played (Kansas State),” Aston said.
As the Longhorns began to slowly but surely pull away, Kansas State appeared to suffer a loss which would have dealt a severe blow to their comeback efforts.
Kansas State guard Kayla Goth, the Big 12’s double-double leader this season, took a blow to the head in a collision with teammate Kali Jones. Goth went down immediately, and a silence dawned over the crowd.
But after less than a single minute on the bench, Goth checked back in with a killer mindset.
“I think I just came in with an aggressive mentality,” Goth said. “I could see on the bench that we were losing our poise, and so I knew I needed to get back in there and take back control of that game.”
After rebounding from her blow to the head, Goth returned to the game to score nine points in the third quarter, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the period.
Following five minutes of fourth-quarter suspense where the game hung in the balance, Kansas State pulled away for good as its slow pace and 1-3-1 zone defense gave Texas fits and held Littleton to just one point in the second half.
“It goes back to being hungry,” guard Danni Williams said. “Losing is never fun.”
Texas is a team scrapping for a top 16 tournament seed, but after being swept by an unranked opponent for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, the odds of hosting the first round took a big hit Sunday.
“(This loss) is worrisome to me. Very,” Aston said.