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Baylor 77, Texas 72: A Good 1st Half Marred by an Ugly 2nd

Different song. Same verse. At what point will there be a new refrain? Burnt Orange Nation's Peter Bean sums up the numerical frustration best:

Nine. That's the total number of points by which Texas lost its three home games to Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor. And that's to say nothing of our 4-point loss at K-State, and 3-point loss at Baylor. And of course we opened the season by losing to Oregon State by 5 in overtime, and NC State by 3.

Even if these Texas Longhorns make the NCAAs--still a likely outcome, if you consider the 4 extra "Last In" teams and the sad state of the bubble--there's less and less hope that the Horns are one of those surprise teams that make the Sweet 16. More probably, an NCAA-bound Texas squad will be hard-pressed to make it out of the Round of 64.

The reasons laid out by Ken Pomeroy ($) noting that "Texas might be stronger than it appears and capable of some noteworthy wins in the latter stages of this season" was an inspiring pre-Baylor read. Unfortunately, the issues that have plagued the Longhorns throughout the year--bad field goal percentage, inexperience, and size deficiencies--have yet to be corrected after 28 games played.

The aforementioned article by Peter Bean rehashed my sentiment from the Oklahoma State loss, in which I cited stupid, irresponsible, and often ugly basketball.

It will be because of the players. Some of it's youth, but a lot of it is just dumb, inexcusable, low-IQ basketball.

I'm inclined to agree with Peter. Barnes has done about the best job he can possibly do to coach his team up, and put them in a position to win basketball games. The more macro question becomes: is this season just a blip on Barnes' resume, or has he maxed out how far he can take this Texas program? That's a question for another day. For now, let's post-mortem this Baylor loss.

After watching one half of basketball, a half in which Texas found itself leading 36-26, I was all set to write a Good, Bad & Ugly praising Texas for all the following things:

  • Surprisingly, early positive contributions from Texas' fifth-year senior bigs, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman. In the opening minutes, the duo combined for 7 of Texas' first 12 points, in addition to 2 offensive rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
  • A strong half by Julien Lewis, who actually hit a 3-pointer en route to 7 first-half points. He also has proven to be a capable third ball-handler, helping out after Myck Kabongo was benched with foul trouble and notching 3 first-half assists.
  • Speaking of foul trouble, Texas' Frick and Frack foulers, Chapman and Kabongo, both found themselves dismissed to the bench for a good portion of the first half. In their steads, both Jonathan Holmes and Sheldon McClellan played outstanding first halves. Holmes was aces on the defensive end, helping hold Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III in check, while McClellan had 5 solid first half points (and would have had more if he could hit his free throws). McClellan, in particular, is rounding into a very nice offensive weapon, though his game on the defensive end still needs a fair bit of work.
  • Texas played really good defense on Baylor, running perimeter traps similar to the Dallas Mavericks' defensive deployment against Jeremy Lin on Sunday. The Longhorns accepted their role as undersized underdogs--J'Covan Brown was frequently guarding Anthony Jones and Quincy Miller, for Pete's sake! Barnes felt his defense could hustle Baylor into bad decisions more often than not, and at one point in the first half, the Bears had as many turnovers (6) as field goals.
  • Likewise on the offensive end, Texas did well in deploying its trio of ball-handling guards to effectively pass and penetrate Baylor's puzzling 1-3-1 zone. The Longhorns racked up 9 assists in the first 20 minutes, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was their highest total in one half of play.

Suffice to say, Texas did little of the above in the second half. After Brown's last made three-pointer at the 12:15 mark put the Longhorns up 51-43, Texas floundered, coughing up a double-digit lead and playing, in PB's words, "dumb, inexcusable, low-IQ basketball."

  • Brown's hot streak may have been one of the worst things that could have happened to the Longhorns, as their offense reverted back to the stagnant "watch J'Covan do things with the basketball" series that Texas fans have seen far too often. The Bears played exclusively man-to-man defense in the second half, and that must have been a cue for Texas players to stop passing and cutting. I know that safety rules say never to run from a Bear, but I'm fairly certain that refers to the animal variety.
  • As good as the Texas bigs were early, they disappeared in the second half. In the last ten minutes, Wangmene and Chapman combined for one positive play, a Wangmene rebound-putback off his own attempt that was blocked by Acy. Overall, Wangmene played a solid game (7 points, 7 rebounds), while Chapman grabbed a mind-boggling 0 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. From game to game, there's simply no consistency from these two upperclassmen, and it's killing the Horns.
  • Poor defense became Texas' undoing yet again. The ball pressure that was so effective in the first half disappeared in the second. The Longhorns forced 9 turnovers in the first half, then just 2 in the second (and not until there were 2 minutes left to play). Texas defenders repeatedly left open shooters from their preferred spots--Acy from the free throw line, Heslip and Franklin from distance. And frankly, Kabongo and company's preferred second half defense of Pierre Jackson was to let the slippery son of a gun run right by them.
  • Credit where credit is due: Quincy Acy, whom I praised in Texas' first loss to Baylor, had an absolute man's game: 22 points, 16 rebounds, 8 (!) offensive rebounds, and 2 blocks. He's my favorite Bear and should at least get a shot at the Association next year. Pierre Jackson also had a huge second half en route to 25 points. All the talk going into the season was about Baylor's five-star studs, Jones III and Miller, but Acy and Jackson have been the backbone of this team all year. Oh, and A.J. Walton still stinks.

A 9-9 conference record is an absolute must for Texas to have a shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament, making games at Texas Tech and vs. Oklahoma must-wins. If Texas wins at Kansas it must mean Hell hath frozen over and the Longhorn Network is available on every major cable carrier.

A Big 12 Tournament win would also possibly be a requisite, and if Texas plays itself into the 6 seed, its second-round opponent would likely be...Baylor. So this year's Bear Fight story hasn't been completely written yet.