Texas overcame sloppy perimeter defense early and horrible half court offense late to escape Lincoln, Nebraska with a 62-61 win, their fourth Big 12 win of the season. The win - fueled almost entirely by Kevin Durant - snapped a two-game losing streak.
Let's start with the good stuff. Texas leaves Lincoln with a win in a game they simply couldn't afford to lose. Kevin Durant reasserted himself as the Big 12's most dangerous individual player. Dexter Pittman logged multiple minutes in the middle of the game for the first time all season, scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds. Jay Mason, after a shaky start, rebounded to hit two of the biggest shots of the game - a runner at the buzzer of the first half and an enormous three pointer that stopped a Nebraska run and helped Texas hang on.
The bad news? Gosh, there's a lot...
- I was optimistic that Rick had the 'Horns ready for this one, as the team came out looking aggressive, confident, and quick. Texas spent a lot of defensive capital defending the interior early on, however, and the Huskers hit seven first half three pointers. As is becoming the usual, AJ Abrams was the culprit, failing to rotate to his man quick enough, leading to four Marcus Perry three balls.
- DJ Augustin played like he did against Gonzaga. Not enough penetration. No leadership in the half court. Little production at all. He finished 0-for-10 from the floor, and though he finished with 10 assists, his play in the second half, and especially down the stretch, was lacking.
- Connor Atchley was a zero, once again.
- Damion James, now in the midst of more physical Big 12 play, has been completely neutered. He looks like... well... a freshman.
- Rick coached a pretty lousy game. I liked his usage of Pittman, for the most part, but other than that, it was a craptastic piece of coaching. Nebraska had nothing on this Texas team. We won in spite of ourselves. The adjustments - all of them obvious - never came.
- Texas must have turned the ball over close to 20 times. It was a typical sloppy Big 12 affair, which worked to Nebraska's advantage.
Well, a win is a win is a win, and we have to be grateful for holding on at the end. Still, the same problems which plagued this team against Villanova hurt us again tonight. The half court offense remains a stangant, difficult-to-watch turnover festival. There's little movement and, worse still, not nearly enough running things through Durant. Rick Barnes, for all the things he does well, simply doesn't have it in him to teach a guard how to throw an interior pass. Getting the ball to Kevin Durant or Dexter Pittman on the block is near-impossible. And that's just sad. I coach sixth graders who could execute an interior pass, even at the collegiate level.
The worst of it is that the team's ineptitude in the half court means it becomes very difficult to utilize Dexter Pittman. I think he's proven himself capable of being a disruptive force on the defensive end, and an effective force on the offensive end. But this team is built to win one way - in a track meet, up and down the floor. That simply doesn't mesh well with 15-20 minutes of Dexter Pittman. Which means we're left playing Connor Atchley.
We saw tonight both the upside and downside of this team. We won despite a miserable game from DJ Augustin. We won despite having our second straight miserable half court offensive game. We won on the road on an evening in which we weren't particularly sharp.
We also showed that there are a lot of players who have a long way to go, despite the progress many of them have flashed at different points this season. With each passing game, we're looking more and more like a team that can beat anyone on any given night... or lose to some teams we should beat almost every time. We're seeing that if an opponent gets the game into a slow, half-court affair, Rick Barnes' weaknesses are painfully exposed.
For tonight, we'll take the win, take solace in the fact that Texas returns home to face Baylor on Saturday, and hope that we can use the time in Austin to get back in some sort of a groove. The Horns travel to Lubbock next week to face a surging Red Raider squad who won't mind playing a half court game with us one bit.