Aside from the double digit lead this scrappy Texas squad held over a Kansas team with three future lottery picks in front of a packed, rowdy Erwin Center crowd for most of the contest, the body language and mentality of this basketball team revealed its balance, teamwork and unselfishness as much as the box score.
They were united while Kansas looked fractured.
This is a young team that loves playing together, pulls for the success of others, and generally reminded me why basketball can be so much fun when it's divorced of the AAU narcissists, petulant when-I-gonna-get-mine-problem-children and serial pouters. Rick Barnes is a pretty solid coach when everyone on the team understands that their game is not perfected at age 19, will give effort without prompting, and doesn't view their college career as an extended try-out for the NBA D league.
Barnes has his formula back. Now if he can supplement the blue collar development types with some legit freaks of nature - specifically, the right freaks of nature with respect to attitude and demeanor (you know, just those Kevin Durant types that are so common every year ) - he's fully capable of resuscitating his glory days.
I also saw an old Rick Barnes staple - physicality without thuggishness. Hard-nosed play, offensive rebounding, aggressive defense and a general communication to the other team that if they want to get chippy, the Longhorns would be happy to meet them off the court too.
Most of all, I saw physical play, unselfishness, willingness to be coached and psychological resiliency.
- Early in the game, Cameron Ridley and Joel Embiid are tied up. Cameron Ridley demonstrates that he is not interested in playing rip the dead ball away from me game and slings Embiid to the ground with one arm. The look of shock and confusion on Embiid's face is priceless. The Cameroonian lottery pick will one day have the frame and strength to handle a player like Ridley, but not that day.
- On one of his 15 drives to the rim challenging the KU bigs, Zeke Taylor is thrown to the ground with a good hard foul. Demarcus Holland literally sprints from the 3 point line on the other side of the court to pull him up while two Longhorn big men walk towards the offending Jayhawk to see if he had anything to say about that. Every Texas player on the court pats Taylor, rubs his head or slaps him on the back to praise him for his aggression as he heads to the free throw line.
- Taylor throws up a heat check 3 point attempt from 23 feet that misses badly and fizzles a Texas run. As he walks to the sideline on a time-out, Barnes greets him with a shaking head - "Why?" Taylor points to himself and shakes his own head. "I know, I know. I got excited. That won't happen again."
- After Jonathan Holmes is flagrantly fouled at the rim after his gorgeous block and steal of a KU 3 point shot attempt, the entire Longhorn front line walks towards the offending KU player who nervously ducks away while his teammates mill around.
I saw several other small, subtle examples - constant huddling, words of encouragement, the bench going wild when the guy taking their playing time makes a big shot. Perhaps the positive body language and effort level was the result of things going well in the game. But I've seen too much of it all season - even when things are going poorly.
We've got a team again. And that makes the basketball good.