Kevin Durant dropped his fourth 30+ point game in six conference tries, Texas committed a season low six turnovers, and the Longhorns tightened their defense drastically in the second half to defeat the Baylor Bears for the 18th consecutive time. The last time Baylor beat Texas, incidentally, was in 1997-98 - Tom Penders' last year at the helm - when they swept the season series with the 'Horns. Coincidentally, the last time Baylor beat Texas in football was in 1997, John Mackovic's last season at Texas. Neither Rick Barnes nor Mack Brown (who was at the Drum this evening, receiving a roar from the crowd when featured on the jumbotron) has lost to Baylor since arriving in Austin.
It wasn't an easy victory for Texas, who let the Bears slice and dice them in the first half for 42 points on 55% shooting from the field. Texas played sloppy defense - especially on the high screen and roll - and settled for perimeter jump shots on offense, which lead to a six point first half Baylor lead.
During his postgame interview with Craig Way, Rick Barnes said he told the team - and Durant especially - that they weren't working hard enough for open looks and playing without the kind of heart and passion that you have to bring to each and every Big 12 conference game in order to win. Durant, Jay Mason, DJ Augustin, and Connor Atchley, in particular, all responded with strong second halves.
The Good Stuff After a pretty wretched start, Texas showed a lot of improvement in the critical areas to get a win on a night in which Baylor really came to play. Durant moved his game into the post, where he earned better looks and repeatedly got to the foul line. Good Connor showed up this evening to give Texas 9 points and 6 rebounds, and even some pretty decent defense. AJ Abrams played within himself, for the most part, and was rewarded with 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting (6-11 from beyond the arc). Jay Mason really worked hard defensively in the second half, helping to contain the surprisingly outstanding Aaron Bruce. Augustin finished with 11 assists and just one turnover - a tremendous feat.
Texas had one of its better team outings of the season - certainly in the second half, anyway. After a truly lousy first half, the team battled back and won by doing all the things we've been hoping these guys would start doing. The movement in the half court improved. The rebounding recovered after a forgettable first half. And more than anything, the defense tightened up drastically, as Texas made Baylor work twice as hard for good looks as they had in the first half. It wasn't exactly a dominant effort, but it was good enough to win.
The Bad Stuff I've spent a lot of time talking about the things Texas hasn't been doing well lately, and I would have spent a lot of time doing it again tonight if they hadn't rebounded to play so much better in the second half. But they did, so I won't.
The only thing that's bothering me a little bit right now is that we haven't seen Texas play a half of basketball like they did in Knoxville in the opening half since that time. Texas has played some good ball between then and now, but nothing quite like that. It'd be nice to see the 'Horns put together a half (or game!) like that during one of these tough upcoming conference road tests.
As much as I talk about this team's "upside," they will, in fact, run out of time to "grow up" at some point. The big step forward's got to come sooner, rather than later. I was curious when Syracuse's 2003 national title winning team took that big step forward and took a look at their schedule. By mid-February, that team was starting to put away all the teams it should have, and was prepping for some huge conference wins over Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Connecticut.
Time for Texas to keep elevating their play and move forward. A win in Lubbock on Wednesday night would be a very good sign indeed.
Next Game: At Texas Tech, 8:00 p.m., ESPN2