Texas delivered a strong second half performance to pull away from TCU in the opening round of the 2013 Big 12 Tournament, defeating the Horned Frogs 70-57 to advance to Thursday evening's quarterfinal match up against Kansas State.
A few quick hitters from tonight's game:
* Thanks largely to a strong second half in which they outscored TCU 42-31, the Longhorns offense tallied 1.23 points per possession for the game (70 points on 57 possessions). A huge part of Texas' success owed to two factors that buried this team time and again while Kabongo was out: (1) its ability to score from the free throw line (32 attempts on the night, and they made 25 of them (78%), and (2) superior work taking care of the basketball, limiting turnovers to just 8 (14.5% of possessions). Throw in high percentage shooting (20-39 FGs) and effective use of the three-ball (5 makes on 12 attempts), and you don't need many stops to pick up a win.
* Texas pulled away from TCU because it finished just as strong on the defensive end. After a hot first 30 minutes shooting the ball, the Horned Frogs wore down over the final 10 minutes and averaged just under a point per possession (57 points on 58 possessions). The Longhorns held TCU to 33% shooting on the night overall (17-52 FGs) and limited the Horned Frogs to 6 from 21 shooting from beyond the arc.
* What specifically does Myck Kabongo add to transform one of college basketball's worst offenses into an above average one? The two that really stand out the most to me are free throws and floor spacing. In 8 of the 9 games since his return, Texas has gotten to the line at a good-to-outstanding clip, as was once again the case tonight (32 FTAs vs 39 FGAs for a 82.1 FTRate), the fifth time since Kabongo's return that Texas has enjoyed a FTRate of 58 or better. Myck's ability to slice into the defense has not only helped Texas net more trips to the foul line, but opened up the floor for his teammates, as well. We've seen both Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis benefit as scorers from playing off-ball in a more wide open offense. McClellan was off-the-charts against both Baylor (156 offensive rating) and Texas Tech (149 O-Rate), while it was Kabongo's spacing that opened up the floor for Julien Lewis to hit the game-winner at Tech and deliver an outstanding scoring effort against TCU tonight (19 points on just 10 shots). Kabongo played 37 minutes tonight and finished with 16 points on just 7 shots, 8-9 FTs, with 4 boards, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, and a steal.
* The fouling continues to be a problem, but it was nice to get 19 quality minutes from Jonathan Holmes, who I think is key to having any reasonable chance at upsetting K-State tomorrow night. Holmes has been noticeably limited since the wrist injury, but is starting to come around and tonight looked the best he has since coming back from the injury, turning in a strong line in 19 minutes of 7 points, 9 boards, 1 block, 1 assist, and 0 turnovers. But for the 4 fouls, he would have comfortably finished with a double-double.
Unfortunately, tonight's win just doesn't mean very much for Texas, but as Bill Snyder would urge his team: all you can do is take 'em one and a time and try to go 1-0. Texas did that tonight and so they get to play tomorrow, when the goal will be the same as it was today: go 1-0.
The Longhorns will certainly have to earn it, though. No. 2 seed Kansas State finished the season in impressive fashion by winning 9 of their final 11, with the two losses coming at Kansas and at Oklahoma State. And in case you'd forgotten (a good idea, if you forced yourself to watch), the Wildcats whomped Texas by 26 in Manhattan and by a dozen in Austin. Tomorrow evening's quarterfinal in Kansas City will be an effective home game for Kansas State, as well.
If Texas is to have a chance, Texas' sophomore point guard needs to outplay K-State's sophomore point (Angel Rodriguez) and the Longhorns' defense needs to figure out a way to slow down the Wildcats, who scored at will against the Longhorns in each of the first two games.