The Texas Longhorns started conference play today, beating an energetic but ultimately overmatched Texas Tech squad 70-61. Texas had an uneven first half - largely because the team's adjusting to having Isaiah Turner back in the lineup - but turned on the jets midway through the 2nd half to outpace Tubby Smith's young squad. All 10 scholarship players saw minutes in this game, and Rick Barnes rewarded Prince Ibeh with a rare start.
- Isaiah Taylor. His stat line was ugly - 2/10 from the field, more turnovers than assists - but simply having him on the floor opened up the offensive end for the rest of the team. Passes he was missing by 3-6 inches today will be connecting later in the season; it's lucky for Texas they didn't start conference play against Kansas or Oklahoma because this kind of performance(especially some of his late game brain-dead turnovers) could cost the Horns. Still, glad to have him back.
- Free Throw shooting. Texas was 25/34 from the line, Texas Tech was 13/26. That's a 12 point difference in a 9 point win. Texas is now shooting a shade under 73% for the season, the NIFTYs are shooting 76.7% which would be top ten in the country.
- Cameron Ridley. 13 points, 7 rebounds, 7/10 from the line, and generally made the right decisions with the ball. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that he's returning to last year's form, but consider that over the last few games he's settled into a regular routine of 20-22 minutes, 10 points, and 6 rebounds while drawing fouls on the opponent's big men with regularity. He's definitely out of his early-season funk and contributing to the success of the squad.
- The 2-3 zone. Texas spent basically the entire game in the zone and it was mostly effective, which is a sentence I never would've said about a Rick Barnes team a decade ago. It will be interesting to see how much zone they throw out against the upper half of the conference. When I started comparing Barnes to Jim Boeheim a few years ago, I didn't mean he would literally take the form of Boeheim. We're sure Rick doesn't have Jim trapped in a basement well, right? Somebody check with the guys over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician on this.
- Jonathan Holmes. His first half was practically non-existent, but he came back to score 14 in the second half. He's now the 34th player in Texas history to score 1000 points in his career and sits at 32nd place, 1 point ahead of Jordan Hamilton. He has a decent chance at cracking the top 20 before his career is over.
The Javan Felix Memorial(™) Mixed Bag Category
- The early parts of the 1st half showcased Javan's strengths, with guys hitting him for open 3 attempts & him using screens to shoot in rhythm. Later in the game we saw his weaknesses; dribbling the ball at the top of the key for 5 seconds too long, missing open guys because he's not looking for them, etc. Javan is like a QB that can only see one half of the field; there were at least 2 spots I can recall offhand where he missed a wide open guard on the perimeter because (if I can borrow from my football brethren) he was locked onto his primary read. These are the kinds of things that bog down the offense when Zay is on the bench or running around without the ball.
- What in the everloving hell happened to Texas' brain in the last 4 minutes of the game? There were so many dumb turnovers & defensive breakdowns that it boggles the mind. MY MIND, IT HAS BEEN BOGGLED. I hope they got that shit out of their system, because if Turner has suddenly lost his ability to break the press - I don't think he has, but that was a bad showing - then Texas is going to see a ton of it going forward.
- While we're at it, I don't understand why Holland was on the bench the last 2-3 minutes of the game in favor of Felix. Maybe he was hurt & I missed it, but Texas could've used not only his defensive presence but another ball-handler on the court. Oh, another random note on Holland: at one point he was defending on the weak side of a play, but he was playing so far over in the 2-3 zone that he was almost on the strong side of the court. You get to do that when you're Holland.
Road wins in conference play are worth their weight in gold to any team hoping to contend for the league title, so you take the win with gratitude. This Tech squad is going to be a handful in a year or two. Next up for Texas is a Big Monday matchup at home against a ranked Oklahoma Sooners team that should give Texas another solid data point for where they are in the upper echelon of D1 basketball. Tip is at 8pm.