I noted before the game that I really liked UT-Arlington as an intermediate test for this Texas team, and the Mavericks did not disappoint, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Longhorns before fading down the stretch. Texas led by seven at intermission, thanks largely to Sheldon McClellan, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half. UT-Arlington kept within striking distance for the first few minutes of the second half, but for the second straight game Myck Kabongo rebounded from an inauspicious start to lead a second half surge that helped Texas put the game away 80-62.
UT-Arlington head coach Scott Cross sent waves of bodies at Texas, as well as pretty much every defense in the book, providing our young team with an excellent challenge that we'll be a lot better for having battled through. The Mavericks opened the game in pressure man defense, forcing two quick turnovers on Myck Kabongo, who was promptly benched, setting the tone for what was truly a blitzkrieg of defensive looks. UT-Arlington went from pressure man on one possession to a straight 2-3 zone on the next, and from there to a match up zone, before returning back to man. They showed us a 1-2-1-1 full-court press after made free throws, mixed in a 1-3-1 trapping zone on a couple possessions, and even showed us some box-and-one (on McClellan) and triangle-and-two (McClellan and Lewis).
We got a sample of everything, and we're better for it. Tonight's game will help us develop as we get ready for the intense, physical pressure man defense of the Big 12, and UT-A's frenetic pace gave us an introduction to what we'll experience when we play Missouri. We got a lot out of the experience of playing tonight's game, while winning comfortably.
A few notes on individual play:
Sheldon McClellan (23 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal) -- McClellan was on fire in the first half, erupting for 17 points and scoring in a variety of ways. He swished jumpers within the offense, showed great touch on a 10-footer, and flushed a couple from the paint after cleaning up misses. He's just scratching the surface, because he can get his shot just about any time he wants it. I love the way he's playing within the offense right now, steadily becoming more aggressive as he grows more experienced and comfortable.
Myck Kabongo (13 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals) -- For the second straight game, Kabongo stumbled out of the gates, turning it over on consecutive possessions to open the game. He was a non-factor in the first half, but he's developed now to adjusting within games rather than between them, and for the second straight game he was the dominant player of the second half, fueling the offensive outburst that put the game away. Rick Barnes made a fantastic move in the second half, moving J'Covan to the point at the top and having Kabongo work the base line against UT-A's zone, where he could slice through the open lanes a zone defense creates. It worked brilliantly, and it was the move that finally got us into an offensive rhythm. Great call by Barnes, and another dazzling second half from Kabongo.
J'Covan Brown (11 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assits, 1 turnover, 1 block, 3 steals) -- J'Covan was ice cold tonight, missing his first 9 field goals, including 6 three pointers. Bad shooting nights happen, but 5 of Brown's shots weren't good looks and he just looked out of sorts, especially in the first half. To his credit, he contributed some value with his defense and several beautiful dimes, and he appeared to settle into the game down the stretch, but he'll need to be better than he was for most of tonight in conference play.
Alexis Wangmene (10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 2 steals) -- Make it five straight quality performances from Active Alexis, who's providing precisely the kind of value that we need from him. No one plays harder, and he's putting his body strength to productive use on both ends of the floor. He'd be ideal as a first sub off the bench to relieve a more complete forward, but with what we have it's essential that he's turning in performances like this recent stretch.
Julien Lewis (13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 turnovers) -- With McClellan having a breakout performance, Lewis didn't play all that much, but he made the most of his playing time, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes. Best of all, he racked up 10 of those points from inside the arc, connecting on a 12-foot jumper, a gorgeous (and difficult) tear-drop runner in the lane, and a strong finish at the rim. I'm fine with him firing threes when he gets the open look from within the offense, but he's got a lot more potential value if he's a player who can score in other ways. Based on the first few games of the season, I wasn't sure that would come this year, but he's been pointedly attacking from inside the arc over the past three games, and getting better each time. Encouraging stuff.
Jonathan Holmes (7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 1 block) -- Holmes didn't have his best game, looking a bit frazzled by the changing defenses and hectic pace. He's got a pure stroke, but he's shooting too many threes lately (0-for-3 tonight), and I'd like to see him learn how to shoot that jumper when he can use it to extend his man or help open up the floor. You can see that right now Holmes is a more comfortable halfcourt player, and tonight was probably a good learning game for him.
Jaylen Bond (3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block) -- Bond has now given us three straight games of 10 quietly effective minutes. He's not especially polished, so Rick's been bringing him along slowly this year, but you can see things coming together bit by bit for Bond. He's undersized for a forward, but his athleticism and upper body strength allow him to rebound effectively. On his height and long arms alone, Clint Chapman can get his hands on or near more balls, but just on account of that athleticism and strength in his body and hands, Bond is the better rebounder. On the defensive end Bond's still learning to be consistent, but he's showing the ability to elevate and alter shots. On the other end of the court, he has no back-to-the-basket offensive game, but, crucially, he has good hands, which help him be a good finisher around the rim. I liked the 10 minutes he gave us tonight a lot more than the 15 we got from Chapman.
Clint Chapman (0 points, 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers) -- Chapman seems to be settling in to an every-other-game routine, good followed by bad. Tonight we got Crappy Chappy: 15 empty minutes of flailing defense and ineffectual rebounding. His good nights have provided us with the kind of value we desperately need from our frontcourt players, but there's no one more frustrating to watch than Crappy Chappy.
Sterling Gibbs (0 points, 0 assists, 0 turnovers) -- Barnes brought in Gibbs when he benched Kabongo after the game's first minute, and Gibbs helped provide some resting minutes in an up tempo game. He didn't do much, but! But, he did not turn it over, either. Gibbs has an astonishing number of turnovers for the minutes he's played, and before he can be a meaningful contributor he's got to learn simply how to play without mistakes.
All in all, I was really happy with this win. We got tested in really productive ways, but wound up putting together a more impressive win than I was expecting. After a sloppy start we did a good job taking care of the ball, and we won decisively on a night when J'Covan Brown not only wasn't scoring, but was struggling to get into the rhythm of the game and help his teammates.
Equally encouraging, we're seeing a pattern of steady, meaningful development among all of these young players. McClellan has been coming along game-by-game, adding a bit more each time out. I discussed Myck Kabongo's progress at length on Saturday, more of the same of which we saw tonight. Julien Lewis has been steadily adding versatility to his approach. Jaylen Bond has quietly started giving us more consistently quality minutes. Jonathan Holmes is learning how to rebound. Everyone's making progress, in all the right ways.
That pattern extends to Rick Barnes, as well. We got an introduction to the flex offense last year, but this year's version is more robust, and we're running it more consistently and smoothly. Our offense features constant movement and a steady flow of purposeful screens designed to open up numerous points of attack. We'll see whether the team can sustain this throughout the season, but the early returns are surprisingly impressive. If we do keep this up, Rick should have plenty of time to work on designing some plays for the end of a half -- every one of which has been dreadful this year, and my only complaint in this young season.
Next up, Texas hosts Texas State on Saturday, followed by Nicholls State on Tuesday, before the big back-to-back games against Temple and North Carolina.