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UT-Arlington Pounds Texas in Austin, Wins 72-61

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This game has been several years in the making.

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The UT-Arlington Mavericks used a run that started late in the first half and carried over into the second to win on the road in Austin, 72-61. Kevin Hervey led the way for coach Scott Cross’ team with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Tevin Mack put up 19 points in defeat.

Over the past few seasons, Texas - UTA games have progressively gotten more competitive. The Mavericks are good. Two seasons ago, they gave Rick Barnes’ final Texas squad a tough game, and last year took the Longhorns to overtime. And so I guess it was just time for this to happen.

Texas got the game off to a decent start, turning a deflection into a transition dunk for Kerwin Roach. But there just weren’t many fireworks early, with Shaka Smart’s team taking a 3-2 lead into the first media time out. The game would settle in to an ugly rock fight.

With so many missed shots, both teams went to the offensive glass in the first half. Texas had 12 offensive rebounds, while Scott Cross’ team grabbed eight. Texas freshman center Jarrett Allen scored eight first half points and pulled in 11 first half boards, but with so many missed shots there were a lot of rebounding chances.

The Longhorns would use some of those rebounds and some open court play to pull ahead early in the first half. In an early spurt, a Tevin Mack floater and a second Roach dunk off of a turnover made score 12-4. Meanwhile, the UTA offense floundered, starting the game 0-11 from three point range. The Mavericks wouldn’t connect on their first three until until late in the half, and would finish the period 2-14 from beyond the arc. For their part, the Longhorns were 2-15 in the opening 20 minutes.

Ryan Clark’s early summary strikes me as helpful here.

UTA continued to battle, running its offense and switching up defenses. While the Mavericks spent most of the first half in their collapsing man-to-man defense that forces opponents to either make threes or struggle (Texas chose “struggle”), Cross also mixed in a full-court press and a match-up zone that confused the Longhorns throughout the game.

Meanwhile, Kevin Hervey started to find himself in the first half. Hervey is an outstanding player who tore his ACL last season, and through the early part of the season has still been working his way back into the swing of things. But tonight things looked pretty good, as Hervey scored 12 points in the first half, and would finish the game strong.

Hervey’s scoring triggered an early Mav comeback. After some unfortunate play by the Longhorns — the low points were Jarrett Allen attempting to catch a pass with his face and James Banks losing the ball while going up for what appeared to be an easy dunk — UTA would finally find itself with the lead. UTA tied the game with one minute left in the half at 27-27, scoring off of a steal, and took a 30-27 point lead into the locker room after Hervey hit a three with 13 seconds left in the half.

UTA opened the second half on a run, forcing a Texas time out after finding a pair of layups and a pair of three pointers against the Longhorn defense to take a 40-29 lead in the first two minutes of the half. This 11 point margin would end up equaling the final margin of victory.

The cold shooting for the men of Arlington was over. Drew Charles in particular was not cold, sinking four second half threes. Arlington consistently executed its offense in the second half, and found good chances to score against a Longhorn D that offered little resistance.

Meanwhile, Texas was unable to solve the Maverick defense. I show some variation of this same damn photo every year, but since things always seem to go the same against the UTA defense I will do it again here. The photo below was snapped after Kerwin Roach had penetrated into the UTA defense (the red square shows where he is). As always, Scott Cross’ squad is tightly collapsed into the paint, taking away any path to the rim but leaving shooters open on the perimeter. To beat this defense, you simply need to make the open shots that you find after kicking the ball out on the perimeter. This is the basic strategic bet that Cross is making, and has made for his entire coaching career; he bets that his opponents will not make enough threes against a defense that takes away everything else. Tonight, it was the right call as the Longhorns finished the game 3-23 from long range.

UTA defense

Down the stretch it was all Hervey. He took over the game for the Mavericks when it was needed, hitting shots in the post over Mack and Allen, as well as stepping out on the floor and showing his perimeter stroke.

Texas would never really put enough good possessions together on both offense and defense to make things close.

So let’s talk turkey. Tonight, if we are being completely honest, the better team won. This was not a game where some plucky underdog got lucky and hit a bunch of threes to beat the powerhouse flagship university. Aside from some good shooting by Charles in the second half, UTA didn’t go bananas from beyond the arc, connecting on just 27 percent if its 26 threes. The Mavericks simply whipped the Longhorns inside and outplayed them at most positions on the floor.

The truth is that right now the Texas Longhorns are a bad basketball team. They are struggling to shoot from outside (now 26 percent shooting from three-point distance), cannot score inside consistently against a good defense, and tonight threw in a bunch of turnovers for good measure by coughing the ball up in 22 percent of their possessions. A combination of poor outside shooting and turnovers was the doomsday scenario for this team. We are seeing that scenario play out for Texas. While the turnovers have not yet been happening at as high of a rate as we saw tonight, Texas also has not played many defenses that force teams to cough the ball up. But this will be changing over the next couple of months.

I am not going to sugarcoat it. Without improvement, this team is likely to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 standings and below .500 overall. Ken Pomeroy’s system currently has Texas as the worst team in the Big 12 by a decent margin. There won’t be an NCAA bid or an NIT bid to contemplate. It is not even remotely close right now.

On the positive side, last season’s team also looked terrible during November before finding itself in December. (On the negative side, it didn’t look this terrible.) Maybe Shaka Smart can pull this off again. There is still a lot of time.

In the meantime, here is a gif of Air Bud that I found on Twitter to help cheer you up.