It's become the Texas blueprint for hardwood success. The ball is tipped.
In the early going, overwhelm your opponent with smothering defense and physical backboard work. Opponent makes adjustments and the game gets ugly. Texas throws bodies at the problem. Game stays ugly. Texas keeps throwing bodies at the problem. Game remains ugly. More bodies. More ugly. Something makes you look up at scoreboard and with 2 minutes left in the game. Perhaps it's the ugly, or you're sick of watching opposing players grab their shorts and reel in their tongues from exhaustion. Wow. Texas is up twenty. Scratch head. How the hell did that happen?
Specific to this game, however, were several intriguing micro stories that may provide some foreshadowing of things to come as we get into the meat of conference play. First off, Colorado zoned the Horns much more than any opponent has all year, especially when our personnel grouping included Balbay and Mason. Look for teams to go to the zone more and more as long as we stay stubborn and keep two nonshooters on the floor. Texas countered by going to Lucas and Hamilton for shooting.
Also early on in the game, the Horns were having trouble staying in front and helping to CU's smallish lineup of guards and wings. Brooks, Higgins, and Relphorde were able to defeat Texas' pressure right away and with the young Horns still struggling with team help and recover defense concepts, CU was able to get easy uncontested buckets and stay in the game. Getting these field goals not only helped the Buffs maintain contact, but the added and often overlooked benefit of getting makes was what enabled CU to set up their zone and keep the Longhorn transition attack in check.
Barnes countered by making the simple adjustment of softening perimeter pressure and wing denial which not only helped on ball defenders but also provided more time for helpside to get where it needed to be. Simplification for our young guys like Brown and Hamilton is a good thing especially when it's a new concept like team defense. After adjusting, Texas simply stayed in front and the result was some forced misses that led to transition points before CU could set up its zone. And running teams out of their zone is a great counter for an athletic team like Texas. Great in game adjustment by Rick.
Then finally, there's Gary Johnson who has really come on of late. GJ stepped right in and provided some interior punch when Dex was saddled with foul trouble. Speaking of foul trouble, Dex has been victimized by some touch fouls here lately and this afternoon was particularly bad. He had two post up fouls that were horrid, and one foul on a defensive rebound where Pittman had inside position and another Texas player pulled the board. It was a bizarre call on any player, much less an all-American.
Let's talk players.
Damion James. The kid is player of the year candidate for good reason. He plays above the rim and controlled the glass by himself for the most part with 14 boards. On offense, he's really settled into an offensive niche as far as shot selection and playing within his comfort zone. For a senior in a "contract year", it's always tough to play within yourself and let the game come to you. And DJ has excelled at this type of self control pretty much all season. The only quibble, 1-5 from the foul line. Really?
At some point Rick's got to do something to protect Dex Pittman from these types of whistles. I know Barnes doesn't work officials as much as most coaches, but something has to be done before we lose a big game because Dex played 10 minutes. It's not like he's been whistled protecting the rim. These are largely away from the ball fouls that shouldn't be a focal point of the action unless it's egregious. This was another opponent Pittman could have dominated.
If there's a player in college basketball with a prettier jumpshot, I'd love to see him. What makes Bradley so hard to stop is that not only is he quick enough to blow by people, but when he pulls up, he can elevate over virtually any player in America. Guards are simply too small to get to his jumpshot when he elevates and that's such a huge confidence boost for a jumpshooter. AB has also started to really hunt his offense in games, and that's bad news for the Big 12. Check out the statline: 12-14, 3-3 on 3's, 29 points and 9 rebounds. Wow.
Give him the unsung hero of the game award. GJ gave us a huge lift inside when Dex went to the bench. GJ's ability to float to the perimeter as a fourr also opens up the floor for dribble penetration. GJ had 16 big points on 5-7 shooting and got to the line 9 times. Another great game from Johnson.
CU did a pretty solid job of neutalizing Balbay with some zone and Dogus struggled to find his penetration game and it showed with a pedestrian statline of 3 points 5 assists and 3 turnovers. He better get used to it because he's going to see a bunch of zone going forward.
Jai struggles with pressure so it's necessary to have another ballhandler or two on the floor as a safety valve. In this game Barnes used Hamilton, Brown, and sometimes Mason for just that. Lucas is going to see time as long as team's zone and there's a good m2m matchup for Lucas on the other end but he's got to get stronger with the basketball or be relegated to designated zone buster/shooter role.
Mason played limited minutes but he did get some time at the point along side Lucas.
Jordan may have played his most complete game as a Longhorn this afternoon. He wasn't great shooting the ball, but Jordan could have had 6 more assists if his teammates could have converted easy shots. This is good news for Horn fans because Jordan was making an effort to create plays and find teammates off the dribble. He's still our only true 3 and he can be a difference maker from that spot if he can play within himself. He's also one of our better rebounders chipping in 5 boards in the game.
From a decision making standpoint this was one of Brown's better games. He played within himself and made good decisions with the basketball that will go a long way if he's going to be our answer at point. When Brown is able to catch and shoot, he can be deadly, and he's good at finding seams to penetrate into so he's perfect for attacking zones. He just needs to take better shots, make better decisions, and play some more defense. All in all, a solid performance for the young guard.
This kid is giving the Horns great minutes off the bench and he needs to be rewarded with more, especially against some of the more physical teams on the schedule. Alexis has a little mean streak as well, which will be needed when teams start to get physical with Dex and James.
Overall, another ho hum double digit win. We're 15-0 and one of the 3 best teams in America. There's nothing ho hum about that.