Two years ago at this time, Sug Sutton was riding the bench. A backup who averaged less than five points a game in her freshman year, Sutton rarely saw the court.
Now a junior, Sutton is the proverbial conductor of the train that is Texas. And she’s trying to lead the Longhorns to a deep run in March.
Sutton knew the starting point guard job was hers entering the season. She was tasked with replacing Brooke McCarty-Williams, a current Dallas Wing, who led Texas to a Sweet Sixteen appearance last year. Following in the footsteps of any graduating senior is a challenge of its own, especially when that senior turns into a WNBA player.
“When the team came back for summer school, I think she knew the point guard position was hers,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “At that point, she realized she need to take over from a leadership perspective.”
Sutton has posted career highs across the board as a result of her after taking on an increased role. From her scoring ability to her playmaking to her leadership, Sutton has raised the level of her game in every aspect.
“In the offseason, I got in the gym everyday … staying consistent with my pull-up jumper,” Sutton said. “As a leader, I tried to talk a whole lot more in practice and workouts and try to earn the respect from the team.”
She’s garnered the respect from her team and her strides have been visible, particularly to those who have been with her from the start.
“(Her leadership) is something that we need,” forward Joyner Holmes said. “If someone doesn’t want to go hard (in practice), she’ll motivate you. She’s always there.”
The shift from Sutton the point guard to Sutton the leader can be traced back to a game in November during a tournament in Florida. The Longhorns faced Quinnipiac in the opening game of the Gulf Coast Showcase when Lashann Higgs, the team’s leading scorer, went down for the year with a torn ACL.
“You can obviously pinpoint the injury to Lashann as to when she realized, ‘I got to go. I’ve got do something for our team,’” Aston said. “She emerged immediately.”
That she did. Following the injury to Higgs, Sutton’s scoring average doubled, jumping from just over seven points per game to 14.5.
Part of her improvement has been because she has been thrusted into big situations nearly every night. Since the turn of the new year, Sutton has played 30 minutes or more in each game except for three.
“I’m not as tired as I thought I would be,” Sutton said. “How I prepare for each game, which is eating healthier and taking care of my body, I think helps a whole lot.”
With the added minutes and the mantle of being the leader comes a lot. It brings criticism and expectations for Sutton, internal and external.
“The hardest part has to be (that) everything goes on you,” Sutton said. “Being the point guard, everything is your fault. It’s something that I’ve accepted.”
This year in particular, there has been a lot of noise. Texas has looked inconsistent during several stretches throughout the year. The Longhorns finished with their worst record in the last five years. They’ve continued despite injuries and transfers. The noise, however, can be quieted in the coming days as the NCAA tournament begins.
“I think we’re very capable,” said Sutton when asked if Texas could make a deep run. “We can do a lot this postseason. We’ve been through a lot … been hit with a lot of adversity, but I’m just proud of how we’ve overcame everything.”
Texas is trying to once again get back to the Sweet Sixteen, the Longhorns’ last stop during the past two years. With Sutton leading the way, the Longhorns hope they can find a successful end to what has been a season with ups and downs, to say the least.