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Texas Longhorns Basketball: UConn Huskies Game Review

Jonathan Holmes hits another bomb at the buzzer, and another winning streak is brought to an end.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

You don't win 47 straight non-conference games at your home arena by being polite, but it is possible to take it too far in the other direction. It's difficult to define where exactly that line is, but here's a handy rule of thumb for future reference, UConn fans: When evaluating whether or not the action you're about to take is kosher, simply ask yourself, "Is there any chance that someone will confuse me with a Villanova fan?" If the answer is yes, restrain yourself, comrade -- nobody wants that.

Warning: Audio Contains Explicit Language

But seriously, thank you for this, UConn fans. It just made your tears taste that much more delicious. (And finally rinsed the palette of the bitter aftertaste still lingering from this ridiculousness.)

Game notes? Game notes.

Horns_bullet_mediumStreak Stoppers. You may recall that it was J'Onions & Co. who ended Kansas' 69-game home winning streak at Phog Allen back in 2009. Today it was Jonny Basketball & Friends snapping the Huskies' 47-game non-con streak at Gampel Pavilion. With students returning from the Thanksgiving break and a defending national championship team returning from a tournament in Puerto Rico to play its first meaningful home game of the season, the sellout crowd of 10,000+ packing the pavilion in Storrs was absolutely rollicking. UConn's surprisingly entertaining Twitterverse was buzzing, boat puns were flowing... This was a real deal road challenge, and no one would have blinked -- much less held it against Texas -- if they'd left Storrs narrow losers. Hell, I think right until Holmes' shot swished the net, that was what most everyone expected to happen.

Be honest: what did you figure Texas' win probability was when we were trailing by 6 points with 6 minutes to go, on the road in Storrs, in the midst of a lousy second half. Dressed in full BUPH.1 Zero? One percent, if the numbers nerd in you insists? A comeback win seemed improbable, to say the least, and made this one of the sweetest regular season wins in program history.

1 Black Uniforms of Pain & Humiliation. I still have nightmares about the sights and sounds of a live massacre of my favorite team amidst 10,000 bandwagon Duke fans from New Jersey. How the debut of the BUPHs was not also their permanent retirement is something I'll never understand.

Horns_bullet_mediumTale of Two Halves. For the first 20 minutes, Texas threatened to open up a double-digit lead and win with some separation, twice scoring to open up a 7-point lead thanks to outstanding transition offense and textbook team defense. The Horns were never able to extend the lead beyond 7 though, and their 6-point lead at intermission had flipped to a 6-point deficit with 6 minutes remaining in the game.

What changed between the first and second halves? Kevin Ollie committed his team to transition defense. The game bogged down into a halfcourt affair, the officials chipped in some reflexive kowtowing to the home crowd, and for the first time since losing Taylor to injury, Texas looked rudderless.

Horns_bullet_mediumFelix's Fault? I know a lot of fans want to assign a lot of the blame for Texas' second half swoon on Javan Felix, but I think it's misguided. If it seemed like Felix shot the ball more than his teammates, well, that's because he did, but of his 10 attempts, I scored only one as a clear Javan JackTM , with the remaining 9 divided between 6 quality looks he should shoot every single time and 3 that were suboptimal looks but not as a result of Felix forcing the shots but rather Felix being forced to shoot.  With respect to the latter variety, anyone who wants to assign blame for Texas' sputtering halfcourt offense in the second half should start with the frontcourt -- and Ridley and Ibeh, in particular -- who for most of the game displayed a bizarrely timid demeanor despite playing against a smaller UConn frontcourt. Barnes was unhappy with the job his centers did to command space in the paint, and they offered virtually nothing in the way of help in the halfcourt offense.

For his part, although Felix's relatively high usage rate and his limitations as a solo creator -- which were made conspicuously apparent on his turnover with 27 seconds remaining and Texas down 1 -- make for a convenient scapegoat, I came away with a much different evaluation of Felix's performance on the afternoon. Factoring in his defensive effort -- his best in his Texas career -- I graded him out a solid B+ overall, and given the no-shows by most of Texas' players on offense and our limitations in the halfcourt sans Taylor, I'm pretty confident in saying that Texas doesn't win that game yesterday without Felix playing a quality game.

And it was a quality game, despite the fact that his shooting stroke wasn't quite there. Most of the shots he took were ones he should be taking, and it's not much to say that we would prefer not to need 37 minutes out of Felix when, well, we're in a situation where we need 37 minutes out of Felix. We know what Felix trying to do more than is asked of him looks like, and it's not the same thing as circumstances forcing us to ask more of Felix than we'd ideally like.

To conclude this thought, let me offer this: Felix was the problem for Texas yesterday in the same way that Ryan Boatright was the problem for UConn. Both players were inefficient offensively because they struggled to hit jumpers and were forced to shoulder too much offensive production by a lack of alternatives. Boatright scored 24 points on 21 shots, Felix scored 10 points on 11 shots. On teams that failed to score 60 total points for the game.

Boatright was universally lauded for delivering a heroic performance. Is it really fair to characterize Felix as a goat?

Javan Felix vs Ryan Boatright

Horns_bullet_mediumGuard Depth. Moving on from just Felix, I talked a little bit before the game about why I thought Texas' guard depth didn't play well in this match up, and the game illustrated what I meant. With Croaker's defense incompatible with our priorities on defense and Barnett not ready for the primetime lights, and without Taylor, I noted that we'd be putting an awful lot on Felix, Holland, and Yancy and worried about our offense if either of the latter two struggled in Storrs. Holland played terrific and continued to put those long arms to great use to score on penetration (particularly in transition), but Yancy had a bit of a rough afternoon.

Some of it was nerves, but some was just bad breaks, and I was pleased with his poise down the stretch of what had been a rough second half. Not long after missing the front end of a one-and-one and committing a costly turnover, Yancy found himself on the line with Texas down 3 and 2:08 to play. He made the two that mattered most, and should come out the other side of this one better for the experience.

Horns_bullet_mediumDat Defense Tho. I spent a good chunk of my Keys to the Game post writing about Texas' defensive strategy against UConn and a player like Boatright.

Keeping as explosive a penetrator as Boatright in check can't be done with one defender; it requires great team defense, and that's where we'll win or lose the game defensively. To some extent, we're going to have to cede some jump shots in order to protect the paint, and if UConn has a blistering afternoon shooting from deep, you tip your cap. It's important that our defenders are crisp and anticipatory in their rotations, though, and... [h]elp and recover will be the name of the game on defense.

The Huskies' senior point guard got his points, but we'll be happy to have an opponent's star scorer net 24 points every day of the week and twice on Sundays if it takes him 21 shots to get there. Our success was indeed a product of terrific team defense, and we were indeed exceptionally crisp and anticipatory in our help and recover rotations.  When I get a chance I'll string together some video highlights that illustrate how great our team defense was on Sunday.

There was another element to our success, though. Whether in zone or man, everyone knew where to be and was crisp in their rotations, but we were also smart.  Smart not only in knowing what needed to be done to with respect to the UConn players who posed the greatest scoring threat, but also those who posed none at all.

  • We wanted Boatright to shoot contested jump shots off his own dribble:
    check
  • We wanted to close out urgently on Hamilton and make him one dimensional:
    check
  • We wanted to keep Cassell Jr. away from the rim and off the FT line but were okay with him taking jumpers: 
    check
  • We wanted to divert defensive capital away from guarding Terence Samuel, who couldn't beat Stevie Wonder in a game of H-O-R-S-E, to providing support with UConn's dangerous scorers: 
    check

Up and down our list of defensive objectives, we were successful. Our advance scouting was on point, our preparation was superb, and our execution spectacular. We had a clear, coherent defensive strategy, and it was equally well conceived and executed.

I was wrong about one thing, though. I said we could be sure we'd see our best defender (Holland) open the game on Boatright, but Rick Barnes had a better idea: we put Felix on Boatright in man, played a healthy amount of zone, and in each case used the lack of threats elsewhere in the Husky lineup to focus unoccupied defensive capital on helping to limit Boatright's penetration. And then when we absolutely had to get some stops after UConn had made their inevitable second half run -- Holland had fresh legs when Barnes deployed him on Boatright when the Huskies went up 6 with 6:13 to play. It was a pretty bold gambit that paid off brilliantly: UConn scored just 3 points and made 0 field goals the rest of the way.

Horns_bullet_mediumMyles Turner's Genius. I'm going to devote an entire post to this, so for now let me just say that I am astounded at the volume and diversity of valuable contributions Myles Turner makes as a true freshman. He's got elite physical talent, certainly, but that's not what makes him special.  Kid is a serious basketball player with serious basketball IQ, some of it instinctive, some of it learned with study and hard work. What a joy to watch.

Horns_bullet_mediumRidley's Slow Start Continues. Cam Ridley had another subpar showing in Storrs, continuing a trend that persisted through the team's first five games. The good news is that a lot of Cam's problems look to me like they're self-imposed and fall more on the "correctable" side of the issues spectrum. To my eyes, Ridley's biggest problem has been hesitation and general slowness to act and react. Now, Ridley's never going to be springing around the floor like Tigger, but there is nothing holding Ridley back from acting and reacting decisively, and until he does he's going to continue to face similar problems from defenses that have concluded that Cam can be induced into a bad shot or turnover if you throw another defender at him as soon as he catches the ball.

Notwithstanding my general disdain for attempts to evaluate basketball through the prism of football, I actually think you can take the description of Tyrone Swoopes' weaknesses right now and it would pretty neatly captured Ridley's early season struggles: he's slow to get going, he's making up his mind what he's going to do before he has the ball, and his actions in the face of oncoming pressure are self-defeating. (It really kinda works, doesn't it?)

The good news is that there's far less required of a post man in basketball to overcome those problems than a quarterback in football. I'm not entirely sure what's behind Ridley being out of sync with what we're doing and his role within that, but my hunch is that it's an issue with an expiration date that arrives sooner rather than later. Cam is too skilled a player and dedicated a worker to struggle for the reasons he has been.

Horns_bullet_mediumKevin Ollie. UConn's maestro is clearly an excellent coach, but I don't need to see anything further to know Mr. Ollie is destined to join Scott Drew for a spot on Mt. Rushmore for the Perpetually Aggrieved. I literally thought he might burst into tears at one point. Apparently the refs did, too, handing him a foul call tissue.

Horns_bullet_mediumKentucky's Coming. Texas gets a tune up at home against UT-Arlington on Tuesday before traveling to Lexington to take on the top-ranked Wildcats in the Big 12-SEC Showdown. We're a heavy underdog without Taylor, but Monday morning after a win like yesterday's is no time for pessimism, so I'll leave you with some fun reading while the dreaming's still good: If anyone's going to knock off the Cats, why not Texas?

Hook 'em