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Unlikely hero triggers rally as Texas survives Wildcats

The Texas Longhorns proved their bench to be deep once again – senior guard Brady Sanders didn’t start tonight, but she stunned the Kansas State Wildcats in her best game of the season. The Texas guard hasn’t led the Horns in points since February 18th of 2015, against none other than the Wildcats.

Photo by Susan Sigmon, Texas Athletics

AUSTIN TX -- The Kansas State Wildcats came off a rival win against Kansas to face the Texas Longhorns, who were coming off a rival loss against Oklahoma. The Longhorns handled the Wildcats in Manhattan, KS 66-51 a few weeks ago, were seeking the sweep tonight in Austin.

Kansas State was the first to get on the board, and the only one to score in the first two minutes of play.  The low-scoring game continued throughout the first half of the period with Texas only adding four points to take the lead. Both teams struggled getting points in the paint, leading to an overall low scoring first period. The Longhorns were able to close out the quarter on top 10-7.

The Wildcats took back the lead early in the second period, but Texas quickly countered. The game was hard fought back-and-forth with neither team gaining a significant lead despite multiple opportunities for both through the first half of the period.

Kansas State finally turned on their offense to gain the lead and didn't give it up. The Wildcats kept it going throughout the period, capitalizing on the lack of Longhorns sinking shots. Kansas State ended the half with a nine-point lead, 27-18.

Wildcats center Breanna Lewis was nearly unstoppable in the half, scoring over half of Kansas State's points with 18. Lewis only missed three of 11 shot attempts, and sunk all her free throws. The Longhorns failed to connect passes, and their field goal attempts were dismal, sinking only 25%, and zero of seven 3-point attempts.

The Wildcats were the first on the board in the second half, extending their lead to over 10. Texas took a spike of offensive momentum in the third minute of the period scoring eight consecutive points, six of which coming from guard Ariel Atkins.

The Longhorns were able to cut the lead to six with half of the period to go.  Texas took the energy and ran - regaining the lead until Kansas State sunk a 3-pointer to counter. The Longhorns tied it back up with a minute to go in the period, and held on to end it 39-39.

"We came in with a plan to go inside to our leading scorer, and the first half she was phenomenal." Wildcats head Coach Jeff Mittie said of Lewis, who Kansas State with 20 points in the game. "They were very physical with her in the second half, we were still able to do some good things with her, but this thing really boiled down to turnovers in the second half."

The Wildcats has 13 turnovers in the second half, compared to 7 in the first.

Longhorns guard senior Brady Sanders proved to be crucial coming off the bench for Texas, leading the team in the turnaround and in points, with 12 on the night, six of them from free throws. Sanders came into this game with only 37 points on the season, with a 7-point high prior to tonight. Coming off of an injury to her right foot her junior year, her playing time is hardly what it used to be.

"I'm a senior, you know. This is really all the basketball I have left," Sanders commented on her contribution to the win. "So whether it's reps in practice or minutes in the game, I value them the same. So for me, it's not hard - whether I played one minute, 30 seconds, or 20 minutes, it's all the same to me. I just want to help the team."

Kansas State took back the lead early in the final period, but the win would not come easy for either team. Texas tied it back up in the fifth minute, the Wildcats immediately countered, only to be tied yet again by the Longhorns. Texas was able to maintain a lead throughout most of the period, with Kansas State tight on their trail.

The Longhorns took a two-point lead into the last minute, and extended it to six with only 37 seconds to go. Texas held on to secure the win 58-51.

"I think the first thing you think about is that we have depth - and experienced depth," Longhorns head coach Karen Aston commented on the win. "So that's something that I think will bode well as we get into tournament play, that you know you can bring players off the bench."

The win puts Texas at 12 conference wins - the most for the Horns since ‘04-'05. Overall, the win puts Texas at 23-2, and 12-2 in the Big 12, and the Wildcats at 16-10, and 6-9 in the Big 12.