To paraphrase Rick Barnes, this was "big boy basketball." The Texas Longhorns played the Kentucky Wildcats to a draw in the first half. Kentucky's strategy this year has been to land enough body blows before delivering a knockout punch in the final 20. The Wildcats put up a quick 10 spot to open the second half, but the Longhorns buckled down and kept the game competitive until the final minute. Alas, it wasn't quite enough, and Texas fell to 7-1 with a 63-51 loss.
I'm in a good spirits, though. With a healthy Isaiah Taylor and a neutral site, the outcome might have been different. Both teams put in A efforts defensively. If you thought LSU 9, Alabama 6 was the game of the century, these two hours of basketball were right up your alley. The Longhorns shot 29.8% from the field and 4-20 from distance. Kentucky wasn't much better, hitting just 37.5% and 1-12. Aside from a missed shots from beyond the arc, the teams executed fairly well in offensive sets. The defenses were just that good.
NBA scouts must have been shaking their heads in utter dismay that the referees successfully nerfed the game by being unable swallow their whistles on heavyweights jockeying for position. The teams combined to shoot 61 free throws with an almost equitable split. On one second half foul call on Alex Poythress, the referee in the background of the camera shot was basically smirking at his crew's lousy effort. Basically every big was taken out of rhythm other than Willie Cauley-Stein, who made himself some money tonight with a gameball 21 point, 5 rebound, 5 steal, 3 block performance.
But back to Texas. The Longhorns couldn't quite muster up enough firepower, especially against a stout Kentucky defense. Not many teams win by shooting under 30% from the field, under 70% from the line, and turning the ball over 22 times. Texas played poorly on O, excellent on D, and had a chance to win. Keep those heads high.
Some individual player notes:
- Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix get failing marks tonight. Ridley drew the two quickest fouls in the game to plant his butt to the bench for 17 minutes. But his on-court, second half performance was disspiriting. He had but 1 point and 2 rebounds, the first of which came with his feet planted on the ground, Cauley-Stein towering over him, and blind luck that the ball bounced off the rim straight down. I'm officially concerned and am openly wondering if he's hiding an injury or personal issue.
- Par for his career, Felix was put in a position in which he cannot thrive. 2-8 and 5 turnovers. He got yanked early in the second half for a hopeless drive into the middle of nowhere. They played like unready freshmen, not upperclassmen leaders.
- Stellar effort by Demarcus Holland. He outplayed the Harrison twins by himself, which doesn't bode well for the NBA prospects of the latter. Holland had a solid all-around statline of 10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. I'm buying stock in Taylor-Holland as the best backcourt in the Big 12.
- Jonathan Holmes led the team in scoring with 14 points, but he had his first inefficient game, shooting just 4-13 (and 1-6 from 3). He and Poythress had some spirited battles defensively. If Holmes wants to play in the Association, he'll be going against guys like Poythress every night (cue a Jonathan Tjarks speech). Holmes played decently but probably not well enough in front of a motley crew of NBA scouts.
- Prince Ibeh started well and got hit with foul trouble. Myles Turner flashed a little in the second half. The vaunted Turner versus Karl Anthony-Towns matchups never really materialized (again: thanks refs). Texas was officially credited with just 1 block, while Kentucky had only 4. Both teams possessed sufficient length to get off shots, but they were contested rather than good ones.
- Connor Lammert did about as well as he possibly could, with 5 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists. Kendal Yancy had 4 points and 5 rebounds, along with 4 turnovers and 1-6 shooting. At one point, I thought he would play most of the second half at Felix's expense, but Yancy did something to draw the ire of Barnes.
Texas has a week off for finals and some much needed rest after that battle royale. The Longhorns' next game is December 13 against Texas State. Hook 'em.