When I was on 104.9 The Horn this evening discussing the Texas Longhorns’ recent woes with Chad & Kevin, I made the point that if Texas was shooting even D-I average percentages from beyond the arc (34.4%) and at the free throw line (69.5%) the conversation we’d be having about this team would be less “WTF IS HAPPENING” and more “well, they’re 4-2 but they’re showing flashes after a close UT-A win”.
Anybody want to guess what Texas shot from 3 and the line tonight? 35.7% and 73.3%, respectively. Funny how not being colder than an ice sculpture of David Stern’s scrotum will make an offense seem functional, and on occasion even a little aesthetically pleasing, much like an ice sculpture of David Stern’s scrotum. No? I’m alone on this one? Fine. Let’s get to it, you philistines.
Cleare has been a favored metaphorical punching bag — as Lowell Galindo is keen to remind people, he has an 8.1% body fat percentage so he’s probably a terrible choice as a literal punching bag — for this crowd most of the season, and for good reasons. His lack of verticality, his penchant for not passing out of the post once he has the ball even if there’s a swarm of locusts that only care about attacking people who shoot from inside 10 feet, and his tendency to think he’s quicker on defense than he actually is are notable limitations for a man that’s been a starter more games than not this year. But credit where credit is due, Shaq stepped up and put in valuable minutes in a game where Jarrett Allen was largely sidelined by foul trouble. 11 points on 5-9 shooting (including 3-4 in the second half), 3 rebounds, willing defense and a grown-ass-man block were all very helpful for a team that needed everything it could get from whoever wanted to provide. His play on the PnR in the second half was solid as well. Good on our resident Bahamian.
Kerwin Roach, Jr.
Roach’s shots weren’t always beautiful, they didn’t always go in, but that’s arguably less important than the method in which the shots came about. At some point fairly early in this game, somebody — I’m going to assume it’s the ghost of J’Covan, who isn’t technically dead but let me go I’m rolling — whispered “you’re better when you drive” in Kerwin’s ear and everything changed. He attacked the rim over and over again, either converting at the rim or drawing fouls where he (mostly) converted at the free throw line. Roach was 6-6 from the line in the first half and hit his first 9 free throws; most of the misses were at the end where he was nearly gassed. This is the closest Roach has looked to in control at the point, and it’s a promising sign that the light went on a little bit tonight. He still exhibits certain signs that aren’t ideal from the point, but tonight was an undeniably solid step in the right direction. If Shaka can continue to build in schemes that allow Roach to make 1-2 decisions then fire towards the rim, Roach will thrive.
Anybody want to guess who put in the most minutes of any player on either team? Yep, it was Tevin with 37. In the first half, when the offense was still a painful and a staccato rhythm that mirrors my college love life (frowny face emoji), Tevin was one of the only guys attempting to create shots. OK, granted he was 0-5 from the floor, but somebody needed to try to make things happen. Mack may be emerging as one of the vocal leaders of this team, lord knows he was gesturing to the crowd and jawing at Bama players enough...sometimes to his and the team’s detriment. (For the record, I don’t mind players getting into it like that as long as they’re taking care of business at the same time.) Mack put out maximum effort to the point he started cramping late in the game, which is probably the only reason he didn’t log 38-39 minutes instead of 37. Tevin was on it tonight.
Hooray, we get to praise Jacob! Young was a valuable contributor tonight; obviously his 3-point shooting was appreciated (his 3 makes were 60% of the threes made by Texas), but he also picked his spots better than in some previous games. Any time you can get a bench contribution of 11 points on 4-8 shooting, you take it. He was engaged on defense, fighting through screens on the PnR and doing his best to stay in front of his man.
Late-Game Free Throws
Texas hit 9 of their last 10 free throws to salt this game away, and it wasn’t just one guy who did it. Andrew Jones was 4-4, Jarrett Allen was 3-4, and Kerwin Roach was 2-2. For a team with as little margin for error as Texas, hitting late free throws is going to decide more than one game this season. It arguably decided this game.
With 10:35 left, Alabama went up 50-47 on a layup by The Even Littler General, Avery Johnson Jr. Alabama made 5 shots the rest of the game, missing 9 shots and committing 3 turnovers along the way. The last 3-4 minutes of the game, Bama looked shook; they were throwing up threes and taking hurried shots like they were down 14. If you watched the last 5-7 minutes, you would have thought Bama had the roster full of freshmen & sophomores.
It was mostly of the diamond press variety and it still was broken a bit too easily for my taste in the first half, but it flummoxed Alabama enough to change the tone & pace of the game and in the second half it energized a team that was looking for anything to give it hope. Nobody is going to confuse this squad with one of Shaka’s VCU teams, but they have their moments and Kerwin was soooo close to picking off another errant pass for the second game in a row. At some point, this press will pay off in spectacular fashion; for now, being a solid complication/confusion point for a team like the Crimson Tide is enough.
Avery Johnson’s Coaching Spasms
If you want some high-quality coaching overreactions, The Little General’s got you, boo. He alternates between the gestures of an insane person and what it looks like when you electrocute flubber. I like to imagine Avery Johnson is what was going on inside Rick Barnes as he watched Sheldon McClellan roll his eyes during practice.
The Mixed Bag
Eric Davis, Jr.
Davis went 1-4 from the floor, which is technically about normal to date. To be fair, his choice of shots was good, and the aggressiveness he showed on his one make — a coast-to-coast layup — was great. Eric showed his value in other ways though, bringing the ball up the court a number of times and initiating the offense (I suspect this is Shaka trying to shake him into a rhythm by changing up his role) and being active in passing lanes. He’s only credited with one steal, but should have two as I think an errant pass in the second half was credited as being a shot because even scorekeepers get bored sometimes. He’s going to shake this shooting slump at some point, and I will post the LeBron Super Saiyan gif 5 times in a row when it happens.
Free Throw Rebounding
This is the second game in a row when the opponent missed a free throw and grabbed the rebound solely because our guys got beat. This isn’t going to stop driving me insane any time soon.
*Half his fouls were bullshit.
Let’s move on before I start ranting about the Big 12’s inability to recognize a chicken wing.
Texas has their first win over a NCAA Tournament-ish team — which is a step up from 12 hours ago — and hung half a hundred in a half on a solid defensive squad. Before we declare this team to have turned a corner, they need to demonstrate their second half effectiveness in, well, two halves of a single game. Texas has a significant hurdle ahead of them as they travel to Michigan to face the Beilein squad that has beaten Texas the last two times they’ve met. Texas will be a significant underdog in this game, there are only 4 matchups left that Pomeroy gives Texas a lower chance of winning. So, I guess there’s only one thing left to do.