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Disappointment Continued: Gonzaga 87, Texas 77

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Hopefully lost in a great weekend of college and pro football was the #25 Horns 87-77 loss to #21 Gonzaga in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon. A ten point loss to a solid team on a neutral floor doesn't look so bad, but it was. The Horns' performance in the desert was their worst of the year and clearly illustrated how far this talented yet young team still has to go.

Texas was down by 28 points with just over five minutes left in the second half. For the rest of the game Gonzaga's offense consisted of just trying to run time off the clock with the game well in hand. The Horns finished on a solid 18-0 run but the outcome was never in question.

Basketball is much tougher to break down into segments than football but for this review I'm going to give it a try.

As a team, the Horns shot 41% from the floor (25/61), 34.5% from behind the arc (10/29), and 74% (17/23) from the line. Texas had a season low 10 assists and for the first time all year had more turnovers (12) than assists.

The offense was really bad and stagnant. For the first five minutes of action, both teams looked sharp on offense. Kevin Durant and AJ Abrams each knocked down three pointers and Justin Mason was slashing nicely to the basket. At the first television timeout (about four plus minutes into the game), Texas had already scored 16 points. The Horns were off to a blistering pace. The Horns scored just 17 more the rest of the first half and found themselves down 10 points at halftime.

Gonzaga switched to a 2-3 zone out of that timeout and the Horns never looked the same. In fact, Texas looked totally lost. We stopped attacking the basket with the dribble and completely ignored our post players. Neither Durant nor Damion James got the ball near the free throw line or on the low blocks. Our transition game was also slowed down. Basically, our frustration led to poor shot selection and our youth became undeniable.

The perimeter jumpers stopped falling, and I started having flashbacks to the terrible half court execution of recent years under Coach Barnes. Texas failed to force Gonzaga to play defense inside the three point line. We shot and missed three after three and continued our dribble handoffs on the perimeter than only force defensive switches and confuse man to man defenses not zones.

Future opponents certainly took note. Unless we can establish a more balance offensive attack, Texas will see a lot of 2-3 zones in the future. If we are hot from the 20+ feet, then we will probably be alright. But if Abrams or Durant turns cold, look out. Texas must be able to score both inside and out to compete with the top teams in the country. Right now we are a totally perimeter oriented team who is living and dying with the three pointer and our transition game. On Saturday afternoon, the threes weren't dropping, our fast break attack was contained, and it was goodnight Horns.

The defense was as bad as the offense. Gonzaga shot 50% (31/62) from the floor and 44% (12/27) from three. Both shooting percentages were higher than those of the Horns. Gonzaga also had double the number of assists with 20.

Texas had just two blocks and seven steals. Unlike against greatly inferior opponents, Texas wasn't able to convert turnovers into easy points. At this point in the year, Texas' halfcourt offense isn't good enough to beat solid teams. We must get easy baskets from our defense. This didn't happen against the Zags.

Texas played primarily a 2-3 zone as well. Unlike Texas, Gonzaga passed the ball well in the half court. They attacked the zone as a team instead of with 1 on 1 moves. The Zags consistently made the extra pass to the open shooter. Derek Raivio absolutely killed us with the three. I wrote this in the preview:

He (Raivio) is deadly from behind the arc and from the free throw line. His outside shooting will be something to watch if the Horns play a 2-3 zone as I expect.
Raivio finished with 27 points and knocked down seven three pointers. If Texas is going to play a zone (which they almost must without an solid interior defender), then they have to do a better job closing out on good shooters like Raivio and make them put the ball on the floor.

Our transition defense wasn't much better. Gonzaga was able to push the ball especially early in the first half and during their 12-0 back breaking run in the second half.

Overall the Horns got outplayed, out coached, and out hustled. Hopefully, the lessons learned will sink in quickly. The Horns have lots of areas for improvement: half court offensive execution, developing a consistent post presence, shot selection, free throw shooting, half court and transition defense, and rebounding. That about covers it all, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the road doesn't get any easier. Texas travels to Houston to meet #12 LSU on Sunday.  I predict a tough week of practice.

Individual player breakdowns coming tomorrow.