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The Texas Longhorns (23-3, 11-0) stayed perfect in Big 12 play with a 73-55 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-9, 4-7) on Wednesday night in Austin. To put in context how strong a team is this Longhorns squad: I thought the Cowboys played improved basketball from the last time we saw them and that Texas was merely okay, and yet the game was never in doubt and the final spread was 18 points. This is a damn good team, even when it's not at its best.
Credit, first of all, to Oklahoma State, who -- while severely overmatched -- played Texas much tougher this time around, attacking the Horns in transition and working hard not to settle only for perimeter jump shots. They battled hard for offensive boards, looked to score in the paint, and challenged us to defend the screen and roll game (with some success). As for Texas, the Longhorns overwhelmed the Cowboys in every facet of the game, but weren't particularly crisp.
On the one hand, the game showed numerous areas in which the team can be better; and yet, as mentioned, it has to be seen as a good thing that on such a night the team still won with relative ease. It's easy to take excellence for granted, but while being careful not to do that let's take a critical look at where the team is at right now through a review of tonight's game.
Jordan Hamilton -- I'll lead with Hamilton because he's the perfect player through which to discuss why our offense is merely solid right now. Early in games, when we're at our most focused -- the game plan and coaches' directives freshest in their minds, not to mention the score the tightest -- we're seeing Texas run its offense most true to form, and to the best results. That's why we're seeing Texas jump out to huge leads, in part due to the great defense, but also because we've been scoring in bunches. We've seen it over and over again, and tonight was no exception, and no player better evidencing that than Hamilton, who in less than 9 minutes racked 13 points via three in-the-offense threes and four well-earned free throws. He would score one more bucket before half and then nothing the rest of the way.
Hamilton's game tonight was an illustrative microcosm of the team's "struggles" over the past half dozen games. There's awe-inspiring brilliance out of the gate and then things settle into something much less than that -- not bad, just not what we saw to begin the game. What happened?
In part, I think it's fair just to say that once you establish your superiority like these guys are early in the game that it's hard to maintain that edge the rest of the way. And not unrelated to that, there's a legitimate interest in paying attention to the diminishing returns available as the game wears on. Ultimately, we're playing to win a No. 1 seed in San Antonio, much more than we are to be brilliant for 40 minutes in any one game.
To the extent that we're talking about games Texas can and is establishing its superiority early in the contest, there's really nothing about which to get overly worked up. But where the analysis extends to the very highest of goals -- and with this team it has to -- the concern is how well the team is going to be prepared for the tight battles that will stand between them and the Final Four in Houston.
Descending from that meta-level outlook, what I'm really talking about is the difficulty this team is having in sustaining that crisp offensive approach that has allowed this year's relatively less-talented team -- as compared to a year ago -- to be a more fluid and diverse offensive squad. We're still seeing it early in the games, but the team is struggling to maintain the approach throughout the game. It's not a severe drop off, but we're demonstrably less consistent, which is why a player as talented as Hamilton can score 13 points in 8:30 minutes and then just 2 more the rest of the way.
All of which is to say that Hamilton, both individually and as representative of the offensive engine as a whole, needs to continue to look to run the offense that gives him and his teammates the quality looks that they're feasting on early in games. I have no problem with Hamilton shooting more threes than twos, provided, however, that they're a product of running the offense. And frankly, if we're consistently running our offense at its best, there should be a better balance between his looks from the perimeter and within 12 feet of the bucket. Right now, as the games go on we're too often seeing Hamilton look for his two-point buckets via one-on-one play, which isn't so much a terrible option as it is poor compared to what we can do if we develop those looks for him through offense.
Tristan Thompson -- I continue to be just floored by this kid's impact on the game, which is the hoops equivalent of a five-tools player in baseball. He literally does it all: a developing post-up game, quietly dominant rebounding (somewhat muted only because he's so active with his incredible help defense), the ability to run the floor, first-team Big 12 (National?) Defensive Team, and the ability to get to the line... Okay, so almost everything.
Before returning to singing his praises, a few quick words on Tristan's free throw shooting. At the beginning of the year, it was clear he needed to tighten his approach and develop a routine. And that, above all else, is elemental to consistent free throw shooting. But too often consistent routine is offered as a panacea, which of course it isn't, if that routine isn't either (a) helpful to the player's stroke or (b) consistently repeatable. Watching Tristan right now, my sense is that his present routine is neither of those things.
The good news is that I think he's close. If you watch him closely, you'll see that while he's improved his approach dramatically, his motion is almost divided into three stages: a knee bend, a raising of the arms, and the release. While all three of those things are important, the benefit is lost if you do it step-by-step; in effect there's no difference between that and just raising the ball to the release point and trying to guide it in with a proper release of the wrist.
No, the various steps in the motion must be fluid and contiguous. The bending of the knees is meant to allow you to extend into your shot release. Any pause at the top of the motion negates everything that comes before it. In other words: Tristan needs to just shoot it. He needs to do so within the consistent routine of three fluid parts, but it needs to be one single fluid motion -- a shot. Right now he's too often just flipping it with his wrist. Shoot the ball, son. When he gets it right, that's what he's doing. And it's that motion that he needs to memorize in his muscles -- the shot, not the stages of a shot.
In any event, Thompson's ability to get to the line is tremendous, both in and of itself and as a positive indicator of when we're running our offense as we should/need to. The single best thing we could see from this team going forward is Jordan Hamilton starting to develop that ability to pick up 10 points at the line like the elite scorers in the NBA do. It's the only thing missing from his offensive game.
Gary Johnson -- Game ball to Gary Johnson, who delivered pretty much a top-end performance relative to his abilities. He was big on the boards, he hit his jumpers, and he took it strong to the rim where if he didn't finish he made sure he was shooting two. The list of reasons this year's team is overachieving is long, but Gary's senior year really deserves special praise. There are games when the match ups illuminate his limitations, but there aren't many of them, and he's giving us terrific overall basketball virtually every game that he's able to.
Cory Joseph -- It was a quietly excellent night for CoJo, who has (also quietly) developed into our steadiest guard. On occasion it still shows that he's a freshman -- as when, for example, a senior stalwart like LaceDarius Dunn works him over for a stretch -- but that's about as deep as the knock on the kid goes. His shot selection is strong, he plays within the offense, he gives us consistently superior defense, he doesn't turn it over, and he helps with rebounding. Hard to ask much more than that.
Dogus Balbay -- You won't find a bigger fan of the Turkish Wizard than I, but I didn't think Dogus had a particularly good game against OSU. Balbay is caught in that most-difficult place for a basketball player in which he both knows he's at his best when he's aggressive and yet isn't at all a focal point of what the team wants to be doing offensively, from a systemic perspective. That's a tricky balance for a player to navigate in terms of being his best individually and playing the proper role within the team approach. My analysis is that you live with some of these less-than-stellar games knowing that you'll get a guy who gives you a surprising, but crucial, 10 points on other nights. Certainly with the defense he provides, that's something you live with, at least to the extent he's able to be solid for you in the other things you want to accomplish. And in many ways, that's Dogus's biggest accomplishment: he not only doesn't cripple us in what we want to do, but is in fact good for us in a lot of different ways. It doesn't get talked about a lot, but the guy's got underrated handles and is a huge reason why teams can't pressure us.
Jai Lucas -- Well, I suppose if you forced me to choose an opponent against whom to play Lucas for 25 minutes, I'd pick Okie State, what with Keiton Page being a guy Lucas can handle defensively, and clearly, with 26 games of evidence now in the bank, Rick Barnes clearly understands where he can and can't steal minutes with Lucas. And I guess I have two thoughts on it, one positive and one negative. On the positive side, Lucas is being more assertive on the court with his minutes -- more purposeful -- in a way that's more likely to help us offensively. And I like and respect that. Hell, if he's going to be out there, he should play like he belongs, and he's doing a markedly better job of that. That's worth noting, and celebrating. With that said, his limitations still predominate his time on the court. He's still not effective enough that his minutes aren't something of a rally-killer on offense, even when he's doing the kinds of little things that our more talented guys aren't doing as well as they should. I guess I don't want to make too much of it given the larger context -- I'm fine with him playing 25 minutes in a game that he could play solidly enough, had a guy he could guard, and we weren't going to lose -- but there isn't much more to it than that. Lucas isn't going to be someone we want to play much against a top team, bottom line.
J'Covan Brown -- Well, he's still as talented as ever: He's the only player who sees, let alone delivers, that transition pass to Gary Johnson, and both his buckets in the second half were impressive scores. I think, however, that he's in something of an "earn my trust back" position with Rick Barnes, which is both understandable and, it seems from my outside perspective, appropriate. I really don't want to get into too much off-the-court speculation-type stuff, but only to say that insofar as J'Covan's under the microscope to be a a true team player, I actually think he passed the test tonight. He didn't get much action, but when he was in there he seemed focused on trying to do what he thought his coaches wanted out of him. Some might have interpreted his play tonight as disinterest, but I actually saw it as a desire not to be a problem. I could be wrong, but that's my read.
In any event, if I'm right, that's a small thing that could potentially be a big thing. We'll need more of him on other nights. Hopefully we'll be in the position to call on him when we do.
And with that, we'll start to wrap this up. Alexis Wangmene was his comically almost effective self -- showing flashes of defense and rebounding that are worth playing overshadowed by terrible hands and a generally inability to control his body. Four fouls in 11 minutes won't cut it. As for Matt Hill, the kid's a rock and an appropriate crowd favorite. He's key to our being able to go deep in the postseason against various match ups and when various other things go wrong. Like Balbay, he's just solid in so many ways that are easy to take for granted, but help us win.
I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't wrap with a few words on Rick Barnes, in the midst of his most impressive coaching job of his career. This team isn't a cinch for Houston and he's got work to do to ensure they have as much postseason success as they are having regular season success, but there's literally nothing to complain about right now. This is as fun a team to watch as he's ever delivered, and there have been some great ones.