The Texas Longhorns ended their losing streak and nabbed their first conference win, beating the Kansas State Wildcats 60-57 in a game that could be charitably described as plodding. Bruce Weber's team dictated the style of basketball that he adores: ugly, and it was very nearly the undoing of a Texas squad that still lacks offensive cohesion. KSU deployed a defensive strategy Texas will need to answer, putting a longer guard on Isaiah Taylor and forcing him to either give up the ball or take a relatively low-percentage shot. This strategy kept Taylor out of the paint more often than he's used to, and when he could make it into the paint it was usually at an angle that blunts his speed advantage and forces him to take a tough shot. With a team that still only seems to have one elite weapon, Texas will need to adjust or expect to see this a lot going forward.
7 points, 9 rebounds(4 offensive), and most importantly 27 minutes of quality effort on the court. For the first time in awhile Prince looked more like his junior year than his freshman year, and it was very necessary in a game that was decided in the paint. Outings like this help Texas play solid defense, and he was rolling to the rim on the PnR more fluidly than I've seen in some time. His free throws still look like how I play skeeball - random trajectories paired with variable power - and he doesn't need to dribble more than once EVER, but his tool box consists entirely of hammers and all he tried to do tonight was hit nails. Give the big man some well-earned love tonight.
We're at a point in Javan's career where he plays 36 minutes and I don't even flinch because he's earned the trust of the staff and continues to validate that trust game after game. He was only 2-7 from 3 - and 4-11 overall - but most of his shots were rythm...rhithm...excuse me a moment [opens Google] RHYTHM threes and his ATO ratio is north of 2:1 & climbing. More over, he's proving to be a solid backup for Zay when he's dealing with foul trouble. Going 4-4 from the line (oh he's also over 80% at the stripe now) doesn't hurt, either.
The Mixed Bag
Zay dealt with foul trouble in the first half - one call was bad, the other 2 were earned - and was bothered by KSU's aforementioned defensive choices for most of the night. I'd like to highlight his 4:1 ATO ratio, but I can't help remember a number of places where he could have padded that number. Like, say, here:
This was a fairly common situation, having both defenders drag with Taylor while the screener floats to an open spot. When it's Ibeh or Shaquille Cleare, I get not making that pass. When it's Connor Lammert, you have to get him the ball, especially if you ever want the defense to stop doubling you and open up that driving lane later in the game. Also - I need to sit down and do the math on this - Zay's late game free throw percentage seems markedly lower than it is the rest of the game. He was 4-4 to start the game but only hit 2-4 in the last few minutes; he's going to shoot more free throws than anyone else on the team in most close games, he needs to tighten that up going forward. To his credit, he admitted as much in a post-game interview. He's the most dynamic player not on crutches and he brings more to this squad than most so I don't want to be overly critical, these are simply the things Zay needs to work on as teams focus almost exclusively on him.
This is going to be an issue the rest of the season due to Cameron Ridley sitting on the bench (in a nicer suit than I own) but the team doesn't help themselves when they do something like this:
Has any team ever had 4 guys called for 3 seconds at the same time? Maybe Shaka is trying to shove everybody into the paint so Felix has room to run wherever he wants, like a puppy just sprung from the pound. Call it the Clown Car Offense. I bet Barnes would love it.
2-9 from the field, 1-3 at the charity stripe, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls. Most telling, they were all buried on the bench for almost the entire last 9 minutes of the game. Shaka isn't going to keep guys on the bench for the hell of it, and he decided they had their chance with about 10 minutes left in the 2nd half. Eric Davis Jr saw about a minute at the end as part of an offense/defense substitution, but that's about it. Kerwin Roach Jr seems to have pretty clearly hit a plateau in his development and managed to pick up 3 fouls in the time it took me to type this paragraph. Not a good night from 3 young 'uns.
I hate to be Debbie Downer after a victory, but this team badly needs one or more of the freshmen to step up if the Longhorns have any desire to play in the NCAA Tournament come March. Right now it seems like Texas has two offensive plans: let Zay drive, or pass around the perimeter and hope somebody gets hot from deep. Tonight, neither was working that well. Fortunately for Texas, they were playing KSU instead of KU or OU. Mark this one in the win column and move on to a Saturday match-up at TCU, which has a 6pm CT tip on ESPNU.
BWG's writing tunes provided by Steve Conelli (SFW).