Facing a TCU team threatening to become the first Big 12 squad since the '03-'04 Aggies to finish the year without a conference win, Texas decided to let Jonathan Holmes rest his sore right knee. The team's performance on offense certainly reflected his absence, but the gambit wound up paying off, as the Longhorns successfully kept the Horned Frogs at bay to secure a 66-54 win in their final game of the year in Austin. [Box Score]
Isaiah Taylor paced the scoring for Texas, finishing with a team-high 21 points on 7-14 shooting, knocking down several midrange jumpshots over a sagging TCU defense and tallying 7 points from the charity stripe. Back when Taylor was shooting 61% from the line back in mid-December, I noted that his stroke suggested a much better free throw shooter than his results to that point and predicted he'd improve on his 11 points-per-game scoring average as his percentage from the line started to climb. Lo and behold, as the season draws to a close Taylor's free throw percentage has risen all the way to 77%, and with it his scoring average, now up to 13 ppg. And he's been even better than that over the team's last dozen games: including tonight's 7-for-7 performance, Taylor has now made 66 of his last 70 free throw attempts (94%), while averaging a team-high 16 points per game. He's a special, special player. J'adore.
Elsewhere in the encouraging department, Connor Lammert got the start in place of Holmes and delivered everything we asked from him. Neither of his looks from beyond the arc found the net, but that's the only ding on an otherwise excellent all around night for the sophomore, who finished with 10 points and 13 boards to pick up his first career double-double, and swatted two shots in the course of showing a much stronger interior presence than Saturday's forgettable effort in Norman.
Cam Ridley fortified the strong night for Texas' frontcourt by doing what Cam Ridley does: 14 points on 11 shots, 2-of-2 from the line, with 10 boards to make it a double-double, and a pair of blocks for good measure. Ridley's performance and final line were ho hum, par for the course... and that is absolutely amazing when you think about where he was at the end of last year. With one game to play, the big fella's season averages sit at 11.5 points, 8.6 boards, and 2.3 blocks per game. And my two favorite stats: Ridley is averaging over 25 minutes per game and shooting 63% from the line. I'm trying to think of a Texas player who's made a bigger single-year stride than Ridley between last year and this, and... I got nothin. It's been a joy to watch.
Less joyous to watch was Texas' defense of TCU point guard Kyan Anderson, who attacked Texas as if our guards had never seen a high ball screen before and, incredibly, was right. The glass-half-full view is that this was a great game to experience that particular meltdown, what with elimination games coming up and all. Anderson gave us fits, racked up fouls, and finished with a game-high 28 points, but fortunately that was the only offense we ceded to TCU. The difficulties with Anderson notwithstanding, the overall defensive effort was crisp tonight, limiting TCU to just 14-of-54 shooting overall (26%) and forcing 10 turnovers.
On the other end of the floor, Javan Felix finally broke his home-road splits, shooting as miserably in Austin tonight as he has been lately on the road. After making 4 or more three pointers across each of his last four home games (17 of 28 from beyond the arc), Felix couldn't buy a bucket tonight, missing on 5 of his 6 three-point attempts and shooting just 1-for-10 overall. Unfortunately, my hope that one of the freshmen guards might seize tonight's game as an opportunity to get hot went the way of Felix's jump shot: both Walker (1-for-5 from three-point range) and Croaker (0-for-3 from deep) struggled with their opportunities.
Alas, this team is one guard short and looks like a 7-10 seed type of team, but you know what? We'll take that, damnit. This team is so young, and has so far exceeded expectations, and if before the season you'd offered any Texas hoops junkie the opportunity to be heading into the season finale with a 22-8 overall record, 11-6 in the Big 12, with five wins over ranked opponents, they'd have taken it without hesitation.
And here we are...
Oh, one last bit of good news: with K-State falling in Stillwater on Monday, and Iowa State getting hammered in Waco on Tuesday, Texas is in prime position to secure the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, which would likely mean a quarterfinal match up against Baylor or Oklahoma State, and should they win that, a semifinal in the non-Kansas half of the bracket.
Up Next: the regular season finale is Saturday at 3:00 pm CT against Texas Tech in Lubbock (ESPNEWS).