When we recorded our Pretend We’re Football podcast last night, Tim and I both acknowledged that Texas was very likely going to go 0-2 over the next two games as this is the toughest two-game stretch left in the season. Kansas is playing like a Final Four contender, and with Devon Dotson starting the odds for a Texas win were small from the jump. Credit to the Longhorns for playing at or near their highest level of basketball for the first 20 minutes, keeping Udoka Azubuike in check and getting into the paint regularly. In the second half, Kansas eventually worked its way back into the lead and the Longhorns were never able to regain control of the game. The final score is a bit more lopsided than the game really was, but the Jayhawks showed why they’re one of the best teams in the country. It’s a lost opportunity for a Texas team who could really have used a home win against top-10 team to start getting talked about as being on the bubble. Right now they’re still definitely on the outside looking in.
If you needed any more proof that Sims is playing at a really high level this year - and if you did, how much basketball have you watched this year - he went toe to toe with Azubuike and arguably came out ahead. Sims had a career-high 20 points, 6 rebounds, a pair of blocks, zero turnovers, and maybe most importantly only three fouls. Freshman Sims gets two fouls in the first four minutes of this game, junior Sims played with the anticipation and lower-body foundation that kept him from getting bullied by one of the strongest players in the conference. He hedged well on PnR, he affected shots, and the guards got him the ball in the right spots for him to succeed.
Ramey was above-average but not perfect today, playing what I would call a B/B+ game. He had some good drives, hit some teammates in rhythm, and played pretty solid defense. Texas needed an A from him to win, but he’s hardly the reason they lost this game, either.
Liddell exited the Shaka Smart doghouse, coming in to spell Kamaka Hepa in the second half. He largely played within himself; there were no questionable threes, no three-second pauses before driving the ball directly into a charge, no turnovers, basically none of the boneheaded plays that stripped him of all his playing time. I don’t know if he’s going to start again this season, but if he can continue to play this kind of basketball then minutes will find him along the way.
Texas executed a really solid defense on Azubuike - and to a lesser extent, David McCormack -for most of the game, fronting him (as Tim predicted if you listen to the podcast) as well as sending help defenders behind him if Kansas tried to throw it over the top. They also did a good job of switching intelligently when he was used in the PnR, effectively keeping both Azubuike from getting paired off onto a guard and from one of the Texas bigs being stuck on Marcus Garrett or Dotson. Kansas tried a few different wrinkles and were able to shake him loose a handful of times in the second half, but the concept and execution were very sound. The high/low action Kansas runs with McCormack and Azubuike is the stuff of nightmares for opposing defenses, but even that was limited by Texas.
First Half Threes
Texas was 5-10 from deep in the first half, and the threes were nearly all rhythm threes borne out of an offense executing at a high level. Texas - Matt Coleman specifically - was doing a great job getting downhill and into the paint and warping the defense in ways that opened up high-quality perimeter looks.
Kansas has a pair of traditional centers and blocked two shots; Texas has a bunch of athletes and blocked five shots. I don’t think I would’ve predicted that going into the game, but file it away as one of the little signs of how aggressive Texas was playing on defense.
Jase wasn’t hitting his shots today. It didn’t matter if they were open or not, he wasn’t dialed in offensively. Having said that, he had a lot of winning plays today. In the first ~14 minutes of play I saw him sniff out a lob and intercept it, slide through an elevator screen intended to get his man open for a three, throw a 3/4 -court pass to Andrew Jones for a transition layup, and deflect a ball from a driving guard as a help defender. He was locked in and contributing in nearly every way a player could without scoring. He didn’t play as much in the second half due to foul trouble, but that sort of non-shooting effort will help this team all season long. It’s a good sign from a guy who was pretty porous on defense as a freshman.
Second Half Threes
Kansas made it a point to tell their bigs to drop back an extra step on the PnR in the second half. This is one of the reasons driving into the paint wasn’t nearly as successful for the Longhorns after halftime, and it had the knock-on effect of eliminating a lot of the open threes Texas had in the first half. I wish that Texas had tried a wrinkle off that where they setup the PnR but when the big backs down the guard - preferably Ramey or Andrew Jones - steps back and takes a three in something that would look fairly similar to their dribble-handoff play. I never saw it, but it may not have mattered in the end as Texas was 1-9 from three in the second half.
5-9 from the line is tough when you’re trying to pull an upset, and the lack of free throw attempts in this game is a sign of how much the refs were letting the teams play through contact. Kansas had 21 free throws and in a more tightly-called game they easily could’ve cracked 30. Still, Texas needs to hit a couple more of those 9 attempts if they’re going to topple a top-10 team.
I bring Jones up not to bag on him but as a point about the difference between being athletic and being strong. He is athletic, McCormack is strong, and Jones could not handle that sort of strength. If these two face off again in a couple of years, I expect Jones to be able to match up better.
Texas is 2-3 in conference play and staring down a game at West Virginia on Monday. The Mountaineers were hammered by Kansas State today, so they’ll spend the next 48 hours getting screamed at by Huggins which is just super for Texas’ outlook. Expect a Mountaineer effort that looks like a Sharknado hooked up with the World War Z zombie hordes; tip time is 6 PM CT ESPNU.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by W. Haze.