Following an abysmal second-half performance against the Georgetown Hoyas just hours ago, the Texas Longhorns have a chance to end the trip to New York City on a positive note against the California Golden Bears on Friday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in the 2k Empire Classic’s third-place game.
Five years ago, Texas met Cal in the championship and posted a 71-55 victory. The circumstances are a little bit different this team, as first-year head coach Mark Fox and his team were blown out by Duke, 87-52, immediately after Texas lost. So this will be a game featuring two teams needing to bounce back from bad performances.
For head coach Shaka Smart and the Longhorns, the biggest key is getting back on track defensively after fouling or otherwise allowing the Hoyas to score on 14 straight possessions in the second half. Playing Luke Yaklich’s defense successfully means playing with a high level of aggressiveness and discipline — aggressive to bring the necessary intensity and disciplined to force opposing three-point shooters off the arc without giving up straight-line drives to the basket or commit fouls.
Yaklich doesn’t like to help and Texas does not have an elite rim protector this season, so it’s on perimeter players not to get beaten off the dribble and not to foul while doing so. The Longhorns were called for 25 fouls, though a handful of those calls were offensive fouls.
Issues on the defensive glass continued against Georgetown, too, as Patrick Ewing’s team turned 11 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points.
Offensively, Texas cratered in the second half against the active Georgetown defense, hitting only 6-of-27 shots as everyone other than junior guard Matt Coleman struggled.
Seriously, it was legitimately a Longhorns struggle fest, culminating in zero made field goals over the game’s final 5:06. Texas went out with barely even a whimper.
Coleman has been excellent so far, leading the team in scoring (16 ppg) and assists (3.8 apg) and doing so with efficiency, as he’s shooting 57.8 percent from the floor and 72.2 percent from three-point range. The 22 points that he scored against Georgetown were a career high.
Junior guard Jase Febres and sophomore guard Andrew Jones need to get back on track, however, as the two combined to hit only 5-of-22 attempts against the Hoyas. Sophomore forward Gerald Liddell and sophomore guard Courtney Ramey also played inefficient games. Frankly, the Longhorns are much too reliant on guard play for three of the four team’s top four guards to play that poorly and still win.
On Friday, it should help Texas that Cal doesn’t force a lot of steals or block a lot of shots and struggled to defend Duke’s athleticism without fouling — the Golden Bears were whistled 27 times on Thursday night.
Not a single player managed to reach double figures and the team as a whole made 19 field goals compared to 15 turnovers.
Cal does have two dangerous shooters, however, as guard Matt Bradley is hitting 50 percent from three-point range and forward Grant Anticevich is shooting 57 percent. As a result, both players currently rank among the top 45 players nationally in true shooting percentage.
Texas has an 81-percent win probability in this game, according to KenPom.com, with a projected score of 68-58. With Dan Dakich on color commentary again, there’s a 100-percent probability of your eyes bleeding at some point during the game, so keep your mute button handy after the game tips off at 4 p.m. Central on ESPN2.