I talked a bit about the game against Missouri in last night's post, but focused a lot on big picture stuff for the Texas Basketball Report. I watched the game from the Drum last night, but I had a chance to watch the game telecast today on DVR and want to spend some time talking about the performance.
It didn't come across nearly as well on TV, but those of you who were at the game last night know that a fantastic crowd was on hand for last night's big win. It was a legit sellout -- not just tickets sold, but butts in seats -- with the arena nearly at capacity by opening tip. The crowd had energy from start to finish, and did much more than standard cheering for good plays. There was an impromptu standing ovation for a Tristan Thompson offensive board. A Gary Johnson chant broke out when it was announced he'd become the 31st Longhorn to reach 1,000 career points. We got on the refs when it was deserved but, satisfyingly, didn't boo every call the other way like Aggies with a persecution complex. (Is there any other kind?) It was a great crowd, clearly enthused about this damn exciting team. These kids are easy to root for. They're having fun, and so are we.
I've been impressed from the get-go with our newfound ability to get the ball inside, and love the job Tristan Thompson does to work for (and hold) position. But equally encouraging is the continued improvement Tristan's shown in dealing with the increasing number of double teams he's facing. Rather than hold the ball too long and allow the defense to smother him, Thompson either makes a quick move towards the basket away from the help or takes a dribble towards the perimeter and passes to the vacated area. It's great situational awareness and play by the freshman big man, and we do a fantastic job of taking advantage of it after he makes the pass out. We're getting quality shots on virtually every possession, and if you see a Longhorn take a shot after going one-on-one with a guy, it's more than likely because the shot clock is about to expire.
Opponents just have no idea what to do with Jordan Hamilton, and it's as much about the way that we're using him as the talent he possesses. We set him up on little curls to get him clean midrange looks. We run sets to get him the ball in established position near the post. We use Thompson screens to get him a little space, and smartly deploy Gary Johnson to above the elbow for a perfect opening of space and entry look. Hamilton's talent takes care of the rest, and increasingly it's not just as a scorer. Three times on Saturday he outmaneuvered a double team with sick dimes into the post for dunks. As I kept hoping he'd start doing last year, Hamilton is playing inside out this year, and it's a match up nightmare for opponents. He's doing great work in every facet of the game, including and especially rebounding, where he has a very instinctive feel for the ball and where it's going to come off the rim. Rick Barnes said after the game last night that it was Jordan Hamilton's best performance since he's been here. I completely agree. Phenomenal game all around: 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 dimes, to boot.
Just to hammer the point home, last year Jordan took 300 shots, 159 of which were three pointers. This year's he's taken 305 shots, and 132 have been from beyond the arc. Last year he pulled down 126 rebounds. He's at 160 and counting this year. In other words, he's still getting his opportunities to shoot threes, but he's doing so less exclusively amidst a more complete offensive game that features a much more active, purposeful presence inside the arc.
Easy to overlook because of a quiet second half was the outstanding first half that Cory Joseph had. I'd forgotten how good he was in the opening frame until I rewatched the game, but he was incredibly impressive in the first 20 minutes, scoring 11 points in all manner of ways. What I liked most about it was the contrast to his performance against UConn, when Shabazz Napier's in-your-shorts defense rattled the freshman. Missouri's defense last night was no less intense, but this time Cory attacked it. It seemed to me a microcosm of what this team has done since the OT loss to the Huskies. We studied our shortcomings in that game, learned from them, and have improved on them, virtually across the board (poor free throw shooting reared its ugly head again last night).
I just saw that Trips Right at Barking Carnival has now posted his game post-mortem, which is always worth reading. There's lots of good stuff and I agree with almost all of it. Just one quibble and a question. The quibble: Trips generously complimented Wangmene for a solid role-player performance, which I just can't agree with. Lexi was terrible last night, and couldn't stay on the floor for more than a couple of possessions because he was making precisely the kinds of mistakes we can't afford to have a role player like him making. He was soft in going to the hole, missed a block out assignment, and committed three terrible fouls. All in four minutes of play. It was an awful night.
Now, the question: In writing about my boy J'Covan Brown, Trips mentions poor body language and some sort of episode with Chris Ogden. I certainly didn't catch it live, and I must have missed it during my rewatch on DVR. I'm pretty sure it didn't happen during the first half, but I fast forwarded through some of the clanking free throws of the second half and easily could have missed it. Can anyone elaborate on what happened and/or point me to the time in the game so I can check it out?
We were confused at the Erwin Center about why Bowers looked woozy leaving the floor, because the way he went down so quickly looked like the way a body crumples when you land on someone else's foot and roll your ankle. Tristan's elbow was clearly inadvertent, but it was, literally and figuratively, a tough blow for Missouri. Although Texas was clearly the better team, Missouri was settling into the game after Texas' early run in part thanks to two nice buckets from Bowers. They had to go big with Moore after that, and lost their most athletic frontline player.
While we're discussing Missouri: I hadn't seen the Tigers play in a while, so I'd missed the emergence of Pressey at the point. I was more worried about Dixon heading in, but after watching him Saturday night, I think Pressey's probably the better option. He's too small to be effective creating offense all on his own, but he's got good handles and vision, and a deft touch. As for Dixon, he needs to add a jump shot to his game to be effective on a consistent basis.
One thing that doesn't show up in the box score, but which really stands out when you watch this Texas team is the number of deflections and tipped balls that we get our hands on. Texas dominated the boards last night, and more than a few of them were won because one of our players with inferior position nevertheless managed to get a hand on the ball, at the very least preventing the Missouri player from grabbing the board. Oftentimes that tipped ball wound up in a Longhorns player's hands. It's a small thing, but if you watch for it, you'll be surprised to see just how often we get our hands on the ball.
Finally, the other big thing that struck me watching the TV replay was how easily evident it is that we are a well-coached team. Obviously, as I went to great lengths to say in last night's TBR, the job Rick Barnes is doing is not lost on me. But it's different to watch the game live and then, as I did today, to watch it neutrally, knowing the outcome, and just observing the basketball being played -- like tuning in to watch a San Diego State-BYU game just to check out how the teams look.
Watching last night's game from that perspective, it leaped off the screen how well-coached a team Texas appears to be. We seemed almost annoyed that they were bothering to try to press us, as if we were so sure of what we wanted to do, and how easy it was going to be for us to do it, that the only thing that bothered us about it was that we had to go through the motions to prove it. "See? It's not going to work. You can stop now." And Mike Anderson pretty much did.
Not only that, but Texas is a blur of motion on the offensive end, and it is very purposeful motion, both in terms of the cutters and the screeners. My absolute favorite player to watch growing up was Reggie Miller, in part because I just loved watching how he worked to get open. No one used screens better than Miller did. And I see Texas players using screens with similar effectiveness. We don't just run to where we're going, but actually set up our defender, leading them to where they're most vulnerable to getting blocked by the screener. And the screeners actually set the picks with the proper understanding of both spacing and body angle. And best of all, everyone's on the same page throughout. We're a fluid, efficient, constantly-moving/working offense. It's... well, shocking, even still. This isn't the TJ Ford show we're watching. This is a damn fine basketball team.