That’s more like it.
Rematched with the same Washington Huskies team that upset the Longhorns in the season opener in China, the Longhorns avenged their earlier loss with a solid win in the consolation bracket of the Battle 4 Atlantis, knocking off the Huskies 82-70 to improve to 2-2 on the season.
What we saw from the Longhorns tonight was much more along the lines of what I expected this team would do to a younger and smaller opponent like Washington. Both teams shot the ball evenly, but we took advantage of our size to gobble up 19 offensive boards on 35 missed shots (54% OReb) while racking up decisive advantages both with trips to the line (+18 on made free throws) and turnovers (8 fewer giveaways).
That last stat may be the most pleasing: just 10 turnovers among our 70 possessions (14%), a turnover rate that -- if maintained over the entire season -- would make us a Top 20 team and a pretty damn difficult match up for any team.
Isaiah Taylor -- He's starting to settle into his role, using his exceptional penetration to break down the defense and rack up trips to the line, where he's a 75%+ guy. He's elite in terms of getting to the rim for a shot or a whistle, but he's still developing as a distributor. One area where I can see his new coach has made an impact is in the pick 'n roll game, which was more or less non-existent the last two years but has been potent in the early going.
Cameron Ridley -- The big fella is playing his way onto NBA Draft Boards as he realizes the upside potential he possessed coming out of high school. Ridley is a guy who has needed multiple years playing at the college level to get there, but after a forgettable freshman season he's come on strong, and now as a senior we're looking at a guy who can give you a double-double in 20 minutes, with strong interior defense to boot. Thursday night wasn't his best effort of the season (just 5-11 from the line with 4 TOs and no blocks), but he still managed 13 points on 6 shots, along with 11 boards (5 offensive). That'll work.
Javan Felix -- Speaking of seniors who are playing to their potential, it's been a nice start to the year for the diminutive shooting guard. In terms of his shooting, his season stat line is telling: he's knocked down 7 of his 10 three-pointers and is a perfect 6-6 from the line, but clanked on 9 of his 10 shots inside the arc. We want him taking open jumpers and can count on him at the line. But we're right to cringe when he goes into 'create-my-own-offense' mode. Keep an eye on his assist-to-turnover ratio: if it stays in the range where it's at now (7 assists against just 3 turnovers), odds are strong we're getting what we want out of him. If it dips, he's probably trying to do too much.
Connor Lammert -- It wasn't a banner night for the senior, but after a too-passive performance in the opener in Shanghai, Lammert has been closer to the more assertive player I've been insisting we need him to be. Some nights the shots won't fall and the blocks will be fouls, but it's important that Lammert consistently plays like a primary component in the offense. Because, you know, he kind of is one in Smart's offense.
Demarcus Holland -- After a third straight season of impressive improvement last year, it wouldn't be a big surprise if Holland reached his ceiling last year. He's a good-not-great player who can contribute value in a lot of different ways, is dependable on both ends of the floor, and will with equal occasion blow up a box score and totally disappear in one. Tonight was one of the latter.
Eric Davis, Jr. -- I tried to tell y'all about this kid. No really, I did:
Eric Davis was born to score buckets. [...] Davis isn't as highly touted as [Myles] Turner -- a consensus Top 5 player nationally -- but watching Davis's tape, I see an NBA player with lottery pick upside. That's best case scenario, but yeah: I think he's that gifted; he reminds me of a slightly more athletic Jordan Hamilton.
[...] Davis can score from anywhere on the court, he's got a fast release, terrific wrist action on his jumper, excellent body control, and Scoring IQ like his name was J'Covan Brown.
For the second straight night, Davis led the team in scoring, dropping 15 points on just 8 shots and 22 minutes played. Get used to it: score points is what this kid does. It's appropriate that he's a lefty, because he reminds me of a player whose all-time UT scoring record he'll challenge if he plays for four years: Terrence Rencher.
Kerwin Roach, Jr. -- There we go. I didn't get a chance to write much about Roach prior to the season, but like Davis, I loved Rick Barnes for bringing him in to Austin. The video that surfaced in September of him jumping over the backboard clued more people in to his potential, but prior to that he was -- in my view -- an underrated commodity. I'm not sure people realize what a prize pair Rick Barnes brought to Austin in Davis and Roach, but I can guarantee you that if Shaka Smart returns to the Final Four sometime in the next four years, he'll be sending Barnes a nice present to thank him for these two. Anyway, after a slow start to the year in which Roach struggled with the elevated pace of the college game, he's showing flashes of that potential. Just flashes still, but watch closely and you'll see it: he's the best on-ball defender on the team already (yes, better than Holland), the most athletic, possesses a Swiss army knife of basketball skills, and he's got lots of potential still to grow into. Just watch as he develops. He's a more athletic Demarcus Holland with talent.
Tevin Mack -- Lord, this is a hell of a talented freshman class. Shaka gets the credit for this one, and though Mr. Mack is a long way away from his ultimate upside -- and the most likely of the three to fail to realize it all -- he's managed through four games both to be bad and yet tantalizing. The bad is obvious: Mack wouldn't know a good shot if it walked up and slapped him in the face. And his shooting percentage has reflected it: 3 for 30 from the field, including 2 for 14 from beyond the arc, is... not good. There's no lipstick that can make make that pig pretty. But that's not the whole story. There's also this: every time -- and I mean just about every single time -- that Mack has taken the ball to the rim, a good result has followed. He's struggled mightily to put the ball through the hoop, but he's proving to be terrific both at getting to the cup and drawing contact. And unlike his jump shots from the field -- which he's rushed and often shot off balance -- his stroke from the line has been pure. Only Taylor and Ridley have earned more opportunities at the line, and he's converted on 14 of his 16 attempts, tops on the team among players with 10+ attempts. Think it through a little bit and Tevin Mack's stat line is less a monstrosity and more an indication of a monster in the making. Players who can stroke 14 of 16 free throws aren't 3-for-30 brick layers... Do you see where my thinking is with this?
Shaquille Cleare -- I've been pretty impressed with Cleare, honestly. I wasn't sure about his fit on this team, but his Actual Agility versus what you'd expect from a player of his build is kinda impressive, isn't it? He really does move pretty damn well for his size, which allows him to make some plays that genuinely surprise you, but at least as important to that are his hands. They're really good. He's got some fundamental limitations that aren't going away, but I get why he was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. Particularly given the disappointing minutes we're getting from Prince Ibeh so far, Cleare's presence on the roster is more important than I was imagining it would be.
Prince Ibeh - Three major conference opponents. 28 minutes played. 12 fouls. Look, I have no problem with someone like Ibeh being aggressive to the point where they're incapable of being more than a 15-20 minute per game player because of fouls. At his current rate of fouling, Prince Ibeh would foul himself out of the game twice by 20 minutes played. I'm sorry, but that's something you bemoan but look past from a freshman. From a senior? It's just crap. Especially when half those fouls are manifestations of stupidity, rather than useful aggression. I'm being harsh in part because Ibeh has some real value to contribute in a variety of ways if he could keep himself on the floor. Step it up, Prince.
Jordan Barrett -- Incomplete. The sophomore's been sidelined with some minor injuries but got his first taste of action against UW on Thursday night. Don't write him off; he'll provide some valuable minutes before the season's done.
I would have liked to see us get out of Alibaba with a win and a 3-1 record heading into today's match up with Michigan, but all things considered I'm not discouraged, lukewarm results notwithstanding. Our NCAA Tournament fortunes won't be decided in November, but a win this evening over Michigan (6 pm CT tip, AXS TV) would send us home from the Bahamas on a really high note. This isn't the lethal Wolverines squad that wiped us out of the NCAA Tournament two years ago, but we are talking about a team that just dropped 102 on Charlotte. We'll need to be solid with our perimeter defense and vacuum up the boards, but we can win this provided we take care of the ball and hit a few outside shots of our own to keep UM's defense honest.
After the fun in the Bahamas wraps up, the Horns will head back to Austin for a five-game homestead against four small conference opponents, with North Carolina sandwiched in between (Saturday, December 12th at 4:15 pm).