AMES, Iowa — There were plenty of critics and question marks before the Texas women's basketball team's road contest Saturday to No. 24 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.
The Horns had dropped their last two road games, so beating the Cyclones would be no easy task. But head coach Vic Schaefer said he saw something different in his squad starting Monday, and whatever it was, it guided the Longhorns to a 70-59 victory, their first win over an AP top 25 opponent this season.
The victory improved UT's record this season to 11-3 overall, and 5-2 against Big 12 teams, tied with West Virginia for third in the Big 12. The Cyclones fell to 10-5 overall, and 6-2 in games against conference opponents.
Junior forward/center Charli Collier had 22 points and 19 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season, which ranks No. 1 in division one women's basketball. It followed Wednesday's 23-point, 20-rebound performance against TCU and was her fourth consecutive double-double.
"What can you say about Charli?," Schaefer said. "She played both ends, and played with tremendous poise and confidence."
After the game, Schaefer was asked if Collier was the best player in the Big 12.
"Well I'm not trading her for anybody," he said. "She's one of the best players in the country. If I got the first pick of everybody in the league, I'm taking her. I think she's continuing to grow and get better."
Collier's status as UT's go-to scorer against the Cyclones was not a surprise; what was a surprise was the fact that guard Karisma Ortiz played all 40 minutes. While she scored just three points, Ortiz was one of few veterans on the active roster which featured just nine Longhorns entering the game.
"I don't think she ever dreamed she could play 40 minutes at any point in her career — tremendous," Schaefer said.
Out of the first quarter media timeout, Texas assembled an 8-0 scoring run, widening the lead to 12 as the Horns took a 20-12 lead at the end of the first 10 minutes. However, the Cyclones, one of the Big 12's best three-point shooting teams, found their mark from behind the arc in the second quarter, knocking down four straight three-pointers, cutting the deficit to 29-26 with 2:05 left in the first half. A Shay Holle three allowed the Longhorns to hold a 34-29 advantage as the third quarter got underway.
Iowa State hang in the game during the opening minutes of the second half, matching the Longhorns, shot for shot, before a three from UT's Joanne Allen-Taylor ignited a 12-0 run, which put Texas in the driver's seat. The Horns led, 55-43, at the end of the third, as Collier buried a jumper at the buzzer.
The fourth quarter followed the same pattern, with Texas leading by as many as 15 points with just under six minutes to play. A relentless press held off Iowa State's futile attempts to close the gap, as the visitors from Austin earned the hard-fought victory.
The Longhorns' shortfalls on the road seemed to have been mended Saturday, but Schaefer noted that there is still work to be done, considering this is a young team, lacking depth.
"It's been a while since I've had this situation where we're so limited with depth," Schaefer said, "and the depth is young. It's really satisfying when you're a coach [to see a performance like this].
"By no means do I think we're over the hump now. It won't be that way —trust me. But, for today, they've proven to themselves that if they do what we're asking them to do, and go out there and play with the poise and confidence and energy that they played with today, they're good enough."
Still, despite the lack of a strong bench, Schaefer said that it was decided by the team, specifically point Kyra Lambert, to run the full-court press that he refers to as "40 minutes of hell."
"With our depth situation right now, I challenged them in practice," Schaefer said. "If you're coaching, what do you want to do? We can play half-court defense, and that way we don't get extended too badly or we can do what we do. They were like, 'Coach, let's do what we do. We'll handle it, we'll stay out of foul trouble, we'll play hard' ... and, man, they did. They were awesome."
The road trip continues for the Horns, who play at 6:30 p.m. (Central time) at Oklahoma State.