The Longhorns’ Big 12 Championship hopes couldn’t have ended in a more frustrating way.
Taking on the Cyclones on the second day of a back-to-back in the Big 12 Tournament wasn’t an easy task, but Texas did itself few favors in their 75-69 loss. In the first half alone, Texas allowed nine 3-pointers to the Big 12 runner-up.
With the focus of the Longhorns’ defensive game plan centered around Big 12 Player of the Year Bridget Carleton, opportunities for Alexa Middleton arose.
Middleton, a guard who’d averaged just over nine points-per-game for the Cyclones in the regular season, finished with the stat line of nightmares for the Longhorns: A season-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting — including four 3-pointers — to go along with six assists.
“Middleton was really good tonight,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “We gambled a little bit on going under (screens) early in the game and she made us pay for it.”
For Middleton, these are the kinds of moments she lives for.
“This is why I came here,” Middleton said. “Playing on a big stage, playing a lot of minutes, this is why I came here. And I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
For one of the few times this year, Texas looked thoroughly outmatched from the opening tip. After falling behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Longhorns spent the rest of the game desperately attempting to dig themselves out of a hole.
Refusing to go away in the second half, though, Texas managed to trim an 11-point halftime lead down to five entering the final period.
“I definitely thought shot selection had a lot to do with the flow of the game in the second half,” Aston said. “We got the ball where it needed to be a little bit better than we did in the first half and didn’t shoot as quick."
Then, fourth-quarter madness ensued.
As Texas and Iowa State frantically exchanged buckets, the lead constantly hovered within five points.
With just under six minutes left, Aston made the decision to substitute forward Olamide Aborowa in for forward Jatarie White. Aborowa, who only played eight minutes in the loss, was only thrown into the game to get White a quick breather down the final stretch.
Several plays later, Carleton drove hard into the paint. Aborowa made an incredible play to block the shot, but stared at Carleton after the play. The officials, sensitive to even the slightest mark of unsportsmanlike conduct, issued Aborowa a technical foul.
Aston was not happy with the referee’s decision.
“That young lady, I asked her to go in for one minute and do her best and give Jatarie a break for one minute,” Aston said. “She makes a hell of a play. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t bend down. I have a hard time with that (call).”
Officials would later explain the technical was for taunting.
Although Texas tied the game minutes later, Iowa State proved to be too much for Texas and managed to fight off the Longhorns’ comeback effort.
“It’s hard for those kids to have good feelings (after this loss),” Aston said. “You know that we’ve been on a roller-coaster all year long, but I do think that the team’s cohesiveness is much better right now. I think that we’re actually on an upswing.”
Selection Monday lies just one week away, but the Longhorns can’t do anything to improve their seeding anymore. They’ll just have to wait and see where the next challenge lies.