By Wendell Barnhouse
AUSTIN, Texas – Based on the two meetings that have occurred in the last 15 days, Iowa State and Texas are destined to finish with a last-possession shot in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Championship. From Ames to Austin … and perhaps Dallas … there’s a tissue-thin difference in these teams.
Sunday afternoon, the Cyclones erased a nine-point deficit early in the second half and a three-point disadvantage inside the final minute. Senior Nikki Moody’s free throws with 17.5 seconds remaining lifted Iowa State to a 58-57 victory over the eighth-ranked Longhorns (14-4, 3-4).
On Jan. 10 in Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State (14-4, 5-2) overcame an 18-point first-half hole and withstood three UT shots in the final seconds. This time, freshman Brooke McCarty got off a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer but bounced off the rim.
“You never know, one shot goes in and the next one doesn't, but what you want to do is give yourself a chance,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “I felt the last 90 seconds, execution wise, was exactly the way you draw it up and that happens when you have kids that believe in the process and have the experience and skill set to do it.”
Texas was playing its first game without All-Big 12 forward Nneka Enemkpoli. A first half of offensive efficiency devolved into a second half of struggling. The Longhorns kept the Cyclones from dominating the 3-point line but couldn’t keep the visitors off the free throw line.
“I thought we lost by not having enough discipline to defend the fouling and it allowed them to get back in the game. Once we got into double bonus so early, I thought we got very tentative defensively and didn't get out and guard the way that we did in the first half.”
Texas sophomore center Kelsey Lang scored her team’s first eight points and once the Longhorns established an inside presence, the offense percolated. UT scored on 12 of their last 15 possessions of the first half and shot 57.7 percent to build a 36-29 lead.
“In the first half, our inside game got annihilated, we had no answer,” Fennelly said. “The second half we tried to help inside with our guards.”
In the second half, Lang was limited to one shot attempt – a successful follow of a missed shot. With the lane closed, the Texas offense stagnated. After taking a 40-31 lead at the 16:10 mark, UT’s next 17 possessions produced 10 points and missed 13 of 16 shots.
“We got a little antsy,” Aston said. “We got rushed with the ball when I thought we were extremely patient in the first half. The more the game went on, the more rushed we got.”
Despite the offensive struggles, Texas appeared in control when Nekia Jones completed a three-point play to give the Longhorns a 57-53 lead with 55.1 seconds remaining.
Iowa State made a free throw, McCarty missed the front end of a one-and-one, Iowa State got a quick layup by Bryanna Fernstrom after a timeout and then the Cyclones’ press forced a turnover. Moody was fouled on a drive and hit the game-winning freebies.
“I just tried to listen to coach and what he was drawing up,” said Moody, who finished with 14 points and five assists. “I knew I had to attack at the end. We tried to attack because if we get fouled, we can make free throws.”
Ironically, before Moody drained both of her free throws, the Cyclones had made just five of its last nine free throws. Iowa State also had missed its last five 3-pointers and finished 5-of-14 from behind the arc. In their last two games, the Cyclones had made a total of 27 3-pointers.
“They did a great job of taking away the three,” Fennelly said. “But that allowed us to dribble drive, get to the lane. We wanted to attack the basket, beat ‘em off the bounce hopefully get some free throws.”
“Our kids executed great down the stretch the last minute and a half. When you have seniors who know what it takes to win, you find a way to win these games. We’re fortunate we stole one today.”