For once, Rick Barnes can at least consider breaking a smile. - Cooper Neill
The Texas Longhorns pick up their first conference win by beating the Red Raiders.
All season long, the Texas Longhorns have had a hard time scoring. That wasn't the case tonight, as Rick Barnes' young team scored 73 points in 64 possessions, and buried the Red Raiders. Four Longhorns scored in double figures, with Julien Lewis leading the way with 18 points, while Ioannis Papapetrou added 15 points of his own.
Rick Barnes manufactured offense tonight by turning up the defensive pressure on Tech's shaky guards. Using a full court man-to-man defense, mixing in an occasional trap, and aggressively playing passing lanes in half-court, the Longhorns forced 19 Red Raider turnovers, 14 of which were live ball steals. Texas converted these steals into points.
The Longhorns started the night going inside to Cameron Ridley, who used his size advantage against the smaller Tech defenders to score on the first two possessions of the game. Ridley was energized. While he only scored one more basket in the remaining 39 minutes of action, he made plays all over the court by diving for loose balls, intercepting passes, and getting rebounds (he had 10). The play that best demonstrated the effort of the freshman center occurred with a little more than seven minutes to go in the first half. Ridley missed a shot at the rim, rebounded his miss, and then had his shot blocked on the put back, which resulted in a Tech fast break. But Ridley hustled back on defense, caught up with the ball, and blocked Dejan Kravic's layup from behind.
After Ridley got Texas off to a hot start, Demarcus Holland and the Texas defense took over. Holland's three steals led the team, with two of his steals ending with easy scores. Holland, Lewis, and Papapetrou smothered the Red Raider guards. Papapetrou deployed his size and long arms to provide added pressure when Texas double teamed in the back court.
The other nice development for the game was a simple one; Texas attacked the basket. Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Holland, Papapetrou, and Javan Felix all put the ball on the deck and drove to the basket. It was a level of offensive aggression that we have rarely seen from this Texas team. To be fair, the Red Raiders lack an interior defender who prevents attacks on the rim, but Texas has played against undersized opponents before, and has never took it to them in quite this way.
With a renewed emphasis on attacking the basket (44% of the Longhorn field goal attempts came at the rim), Texas for once earned trips to the free throw line. Rick Barnes' team did well there, shooting 18-25 from the stripe. Most encouraging was the 5-6 free throw shooting from Papapetrou, who has oddly struggled from the line this year.
A final positive note about the offense -- Texas turned the ball over only ten times. This is encouraging for several reasons. First, as I noted in the preview, about the only thing that Tech does really well is force turnovers. Second, Texas managed to protect the rock while Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland were splitting time as the primary ball handler. Holland actually logged more minutes than did Felix; and not only did Holland lead the charge on defense, he also scored 11 points on 5-8 shooting, limited his turnovers to two, and ran the team. It was Holland's best game of the year, and gave Texas fans a peek at what he might be able to contribute to this team in the future. Holland's future is probably not as a point guard, but he did a pretty reasonable imitation of one tonight.
The Longhorn defense frustrated the Red Raider offense. Not only did Tech turn the ball over a lot, they also only managed to shoot 37 percent from the floor. Ridley did his usual job patrolling the paint, blocking three shots.
The bright spot for the Red Raider offense was the play of sophomore Jordan Tolbert, who scored 18 points, tracked down eight offensive rebounds, and generally was a thorn in the Longhorns' side all night. Dusty Hannahs did Dusty Hannahs things, knocking down two open looks from three. Other than that, the Tech offense did nothing.
It is good to see this team play well again. It is too bad this game was on the Longhorn Network, where so few were able to see it. It was one of the few complete games that Texas has put together this season. Sure, Texas Tech is a weak opponent; but for once, the Longhorns weren't also playing against themselves.