Texas holds off Kansas behind veteran leadership

Robert Trevino

Despite welcoming in a Kansas team that limped into Austin after a 1–4 start to conference play, the Longhorns had their share of struggles early on. While it took strong performances from some of Texas’ seniors, Texas pulled out the 85-77 win at home.

Even as all their conference losses came by double digits, including a 43-point loss to Baylor at home, the Jayhawks rode a 9-for-18 performance from the field in the opening period to a four-point lead over a Longhorn team that had won three of their last four.

“Today in particular, we just didn’t have that sense of urgency for the entire game,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “When they came out of halftime, I thought that our older players asserted themselves because they’re experienced. I thought we played really well in the second and third quarter.”

That veteran leadership helped Texas pull away in the second quarter, as senior guards Jada Underwood and Sug Sutton were involved in 12 of the Longhorns’ 18 second-quarter points to take a five-point lead at halftime.

Sutton, in particular, has been a key piece of the Longhorns’ recent success in Big 12 play. Despite averaging just 9.1 points per game in nonconference play, a step down from her 12.7 average last season, she has put on her best performances against the toughest competition, with 12 points against then-No. 1 Stanford and a 19-point, no-turnover game at Tennessee.

And on Wednesday night, it was Sutton who assisted the first two baskets for the Longhorns and then made a layup of her own in the opening two minutes of the second half to push the lead to 11 and force a Kansas timeout.

“We just needed to lock in, and I needed to get my head straight, run the team and be the leader that I am,” Sutton said. “I thought coming out of halftime, I had that focus, and I knew what to do. I knew we needed a lead, and we needed to get going.”

Sutton finished with 18 points and a game-high eight assists along with a game-sealing steal after a late-game scare saw the Longhorns’ lead cut to five with 40 seconds left.

However, with just seconds remaining, Sutton fell awkwardly after losing the ball and had to be helped off the floor, with the Frank Erwin Center falling completely silent as the senior leader went down with what was officially ruled a right knee sprain.  Sutton later said after the game that she’d “be fine.”

Sophomore standout center Charli Collier gave the Longhorns another impressive double-double. And with Sutton and Holmes at the helm, Texas held off a Kansas team who kept the game close throughout.

As the Longhorns make a push for a tournament bid with March just around the corner, the leadership that Sutton brings to the table will prove to be invaluable in the coming weeks just as it was on Wednesday night.

With four wins in their last five, Aston believes the team is headed in the right direction, even with small scares like Wednesday’s.

“We’ll be better. We’ll be better,” Aston said. “I’m not worried.”