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Texas Basketball Defeats Tech in Big 12 Opener

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The Longhorns opened up a 20 point lead then held off the Red Raiders' late rally to win in Isaiah Taylor's return from injury.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Texas used a stifling defense in the first half and double-digit scoring from three upperclassmen (15 for Felix, 14 from Holmes, 13 from Ridley) to pick up a 70-61 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon in Lubbock. The contest was the first conference game of the season for the Longhorns, and their first in 10 games with Isaiah Taylor back. The sophomore point guard returned from the wrist injury he suffered at the end of UT's win over Iowa back in November and turned in an uneven performance as he shook off the rust from his extended absence, scoring 8 points and tallying 2 assists, 4 steals and 6 turnovers.

The Longhorns were well on their way to a blowout victory when a Ridley free throw extended Texas' lead to 60-40 with 5:49 remaining, but the Red Raiders refused to quit, ramped up their full court pressure, and rallied all the way back to within 7 points at 66-59 with 1:21 to play. Rick Barnes got his team organized in a timeout, ran a proper press break, and the Longhorns snuffed out the rebellion.

I'll follow up with some additional game notes a little later, but a couple quick points here right off the bat:

1. Zay was rusty, and it was clear his wrist is still a little bit tender, but the positive impact he had on his teammates and the game was plain to see. He just adds a dimension to the game that is beneficial to us in so many different ways. Even playing sloppy, his presence provided a big boost. Plus, there was this:

2. Two of the biggest beneficiaries were a pair of players who struggled for stretches of his absence -- Ridley and Felix. Felix especially was able to thrive playing in his proper role as a shooting guard off the bench, benefiting on several occasions by the better spacing Taylor helped to create. Ditto Ridley, who didn't have to try to operate with an entire defense collapsing around him.

3. I mentioned this before the game, but never, ever take a road win in this conference for granted. Tech is really young, and a year away from being competitive in this conference, but we lost to a lesser Red Raiders team in Lubbock last year, and today's victory was no gimme. I was actually pretty impressed with the way we built the big lead. The crappy play against the full court pressure late was actually probably a blessing, as it will undoubtedly lead to better practice time preparing for better teams who will try to bother us with pressure defense, like West Virginia.

4. It's really nice to have a team that you trust to hit free throws. It's really trying to have a team that you don't trust to take care of the basketball.

5. I don't want to say it, but I will: I don't hate our zone defense. Jeff and I have talked a lot over the years about why it's generally a bad idea for teams to play zone, and while I'm not totally sold that it's the optimal way for us to go, yeah... I don't hate it, either. Particularly the way we're playing it with our outside guys on the back line pressing up so aggressively.

I'll check back in a little later and update this post with some additional game notes, but the comments are open for your thoughts. Thoughts on today's win? Any big takeaways as we head into a Big Monday showdown with OU?

1-0, baby.  1-0.  Hook 'em!