Texas Ariel Atkins (24) and Iowa State Fallon Ellis (32) lock arms as the go for position for a rebound during the first half Big 12 basketball game held at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Women's Basketball

Hello, Ames: Texas women prepped for perhaps the Big 12’s toughest venue

Posted December 31st, 2016

Story highlights
  • Iowa State has averaged more than 9,000 fans per game for nine straight years.
  • The Cyclones have ranked in the top 10 nationally in attendance for 17 straight years.
  • Iowa State ranks 15th in scoring and first in free throw accuracy.

Playing before 10,000 fans Sunday at Iowa State should not be a shock to the Texas women’s basketball team’s system.

The Longhorns have already played in challenging locations this young season. At Stanford, at Mississippi State, playing UConn in Connecticut.

In the Big 12, Hilton Coliseum in Ames is arguably the toughest venue to play. The Cyclones have ranked in the top 10 nationally in attendance for 17 straight years. They’ve averaged more than 9,000 fans a game for nine consecutive seasons.

Texas hasn’t fared well in Ames. The Longhorns are 3-10 there. Still, if any team is battle-tested and ready, it’s the 16th-ranked Longhorns, who have won five straight.

Texas head coach Karen Aston cheers as her team scores against Texas Tech during a Big 12 Conference basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas head coach Karen Aston cheers as her team scores against Texas Tech during a Big 12 Conference basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

“I think we’ll respond OK (at Iowa State),” coach Karen Aston said after the Longhorns opened conference play Thursday night with a 67-47 victory over Tech at the Erwin Center. “I don’t think any of the atmospheres we’re going to see will surprise us. That’s what playing in those kind of environments (during non-conference games) gave us.”

Aston is more concerned about Iowa State’s “style of play.” The Cyclones’ four-guard system creates problems with their passing and shooting ability. Only one starter — 6-3 forward Meredith Burkhall — is taller than 6 feet.

Iowa State ranks 15th in the nation in scoring (82 points per game). The Cylones are 41st in three-point accuracy (36.7 percent). They also rank No. 1 in the country in free throw accuracy (82 percent). Guard Jadda Buckley ranks third in the nation in free throw percentage (95.5).

Despite those impressive stats, Iowa State (9-3, 0-1) kicked off its Big 12 slate with a 71-59 loss at Oklahoma State. The Cyclones are trying to rebound from last season, when they went 13-17 overall and 5-13 in the Big 12.

Now in his 20th season at Iowa State, Bill Fennelly said he didn’t sleep after losing to OSU, saying he was more concerned about preparing for the Longhorns.

“Texas is Texas,” Fennelly said. “It’s 15 high school All-Americans. They’re big, they’re fast and they’re athletic. It’s a compliment to them that they’ve lost four games and are still ranked No. 16. Everyone knows how good they are.”

If Texas has an advantage Sunday, it comes from the inside duo of 6-5 post Kelsey Lang and 6-3 freshman forward Joyner Holmes. They have combined to average 20.1 points a game and are a big reason the Longhorns have outrebounded all 11 of their opponents.

With six players who entered the season without ever playing in an NCAA Division I game, Texas often looked confused during its four losses. Junior guard Ariel Atkins, though, said her teammates came back from the Christmas holidays with renewed enthusiasm.

“We made a statement to each other before we left (for Christmas break) that we needed to get it together,” Atkins said. “We really wanted to focus on coming to into the conference with a zero and zero mindset. We wanted to come back and ready for everything that our coaches have for us.”

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