Chin Up, Soldier

Stunning. Thrilling. Exhausting. Outrageous. Glorious. Devastating... Pick your adjective and Tuesday night's triple overtime thriller had at least a little bit of it.

We hate cliches when they're overused, but sometimes, they're damn appropriate. And as Andrew noted in the immediate aftermath of last night's game, it really was a shame that someone had to lose that game. Cliche? Yeah. Appropriate? Entirely.

Someone did have to lose though. And it was us, goddamnit. All that fun. All that madness. All that "Damn! This is why I love this game!" potentially wasted because someone had to lose. And we were that someone. Thrill be damned... we lost.

If you're like me, you're probably more than a little nervous about how this affects this basketball team. Texas now has to go play a pesky, pressing Villanova team. In Philadelphia.

What happens if we lose on Saturday? And if we drop our next road game in Lincoln, too? A thrilling, once-a-season event which we came out on the short end of has the potential to derail us from the bigger picture. Is it even worth it, when that's the downside?

Tough as it may be to get over a loss like that, the overwhelming majority of the things we saw on Tuesday give us reason to be more, not less, optimistic about this team. Consider:

  • We saw Jay Mason struggle through 25 minutes of his first tough, nonconference road game only to settle in and become a critical part of the heroics.
  • We saw the much-maligned Connor Atchley rebound from an atrocious home effort against OU to help keep Texas in the game. Including a clutch, game-tying three pointer in double-overtime.
  • We saw DJ Augustin elevate his game to a level normally reserved for upperclassmen. Four fouls with 30 minutes of hoops left to go? "No problem, Cap'n. I've been saving my best for last anyway."
  • We saw Kevin Durant get double, triple, and quadruple teamed. No matter. 37 and 13, thank you very much.
  • We saw a head coach that's putting these enormously talented and young players in a position to be something special.
And it's that last point - the one about Rick Barnes - that has me believing that everything's going to be okay. Rick Barnes has assembled the most talented team to ever play basketball at the University of Texas. Rick's ability to bring the talent to Austin was undeniable before, but there remained questions about whether he knew how to get the most out of that talent.

Citing the TJ Ford era simply wasn't enough; not when TJ was like an extra coach out on the floor. To be perfectly honest, the TJ Ford era was about Ford coaching Barnes - not the other way around.

But what we're seeing from this 2006-07 basketball team is that Rick Barnes has learned what to do with the talent. He does know how to get the most out of these guys. He's not overmanaging - he's simply teaching them how to be their best. The story of last night's game is not that Texas lost a thriller; it's that Texas fans got to see that this is a different kind of basketball team, coached by a guy who's ready to let out enough string to see just how high this kite can fly. I was scared as hell that we'd never get to that point this season. That Kevin would come, flash that talent, but never quite be let loose... and be gone.

Not so. This is the most interesting, exciting, and talented team to ever grace the 40 Acres. And, I'm damn pleased to say, the right guy's sitting courtside teaching them how to do it all.

What was most exciting about last night's game - if you ask me - was that I saw a team that doesn't need to worry about its seeding all that much. Oklahoma State needed the performance of their lives to escape their home court with a win. I'll take Texas on a neutral court, with anyone, on any given day. The sky remains the limit.

--PB--

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