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Texas couldn’t capitalize on opportunities in 52-45 Baylor win

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Five scoring droughts of more than 3:30 minutes doomed the Longhorns against the nation’s No. 1 team.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — Despite leading by as many as 16 points, the No. 1 Baylor Bears weren’t able to fully shut the door on a Texas Longhorns team that competed until the game was out of reach in the final seconds, but couldn’t put together enough winning plays.

Considering that the Longhorns shot 30.5 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from three-point range, it’s remarkable that Texas even had multiple opportunities to make it a game in the second half given four scoreless stretches of more than 3:30.

Credit a stingy defense that held Baylor to 34-percent shooting and limited a Bears team that ranks No. 4 nationally in offensive rebounding rate to only four on Monday. Last month in Waco, Baylor used 19 offensive rebounds to attempt 11 more shots than Texas.

If that sounds like too much praise for a team that shot poorly and lost its 10th game of the season, narrowly avoiding the seventh double-digit loss of the season, that’s fair. The Longhorns certainly didn’t play particularly well overall, and in the fifth year of the Shaka Smart era, just competing is no longer enough.

The most disappointing aspects of the Longhorns attempting to beat an AP No. 1 opponent for the first time in 11 tries are that Texas missed a handful of open looks and didn’t get junior forward Jericho Sims involved enough in the game.

Sims played much better against Baylor than he did on Saturday against Texas Tech when he fouled out in 19 minutes with two points and two turnovers, even though the Bears employed the same defensive strategies as the Red Raiders. The problem for Texas was that Sims didn’t attempt a shot in the final 15 minutes, though he did attempt two free throws. Baylor was partly responsible, especially by providing backside help when Sims got a switch onto a smaller player and at times sending an extra defender at him off of the bounce.

“Just the flow of the game,” Sim said when asked why he didn’t get the ball more often. “If I don’t touch it, I’m looking to get an offensive board and kick it back out.”

Junior guard Matt Coleman thought the blame was 50-50, saying that Sims needs to do the work to get good positioning and then the guards need to find him.

“The first thing is that Jericho has gotten better with his assertiveness to seal and get the ball, but he still has some room that we have to keep working with him to grow in that area,” Smart said. “His first couple of years he wasn’t assertive at all and in that way, he’s made progress, but if they’re going to switch a smaller guy onto you, you’ve got to be extremely aggressive on your seal.”

Smart credited Texas Tech and Baylor as having the personnel to employ that strategy. During the first half, Sims told the coaches he felt like he was being held — Smart told him that if that’s the case, he needs to seal even harder.

“Our guards were really looking for him in the situations, but Baylor did a nice job, particularly when we had two guards in, with Royce [Hamm, Jr.] and Jericho, of providing some help. When we had Kamaka [Hepa] in there, we had better spacing.”

Sims finished with nine points and 14 rebounds, but only attempted seven shots and two free throws even though he had five offensive rebounds.

After coming out of halftime with a six-point deficit, Texas was able to cut the lead to two points with two baskets at the rim and a free throw from Sims, his last points of the game. Baylor responded, however, with a 13-0 run keyed by a big three-pointer from Devonte Bandoo in transition that pushed the Baylor lead back to seven points at the under-12 timeout. The basket gave the Bears a 13-0 advantage in fast-break points.

“That was the difference in the game,” Smart said. “They got a couple threes during that stretch where they got loose. I thought overall our guys defended with great intensity, but obviously when we shoot that poorly, the margin for error on defense is paper thin and you can’t let them get free for any of the looks they want to get.”

A particular problem was the +9 advantage for Baylor from the three-point line — Texas takes such a high volume on offense and attempts to take those looks away defensively to such an extent that losing in that area of that game is extremely difficult to overcome, especially with three players out with injuries.

During that decisive stretch, Texas had some bad possessions offensively, including an off-the-ball foul on Hamm, who had three points and three turnovers. Hamm also gave up a layup to Baylor forward Matthew Mayer before Texas allowed another to Bandoo.

He was -16 in 17 minutes, the second-worst mark on the team after freshman guard Donovan Williams, who was -17 thanks to 1-of-6 shooting and a turnover.

As the Bears lead ballooned to 16 with 7:48 remaining when junior guard Matt Coleman threw the ball out of bounds, the fans started to head out of the Erwin Center.

Texas didn’t give up, though, cutting the lead to seven points with 5:20 remaining after actually making two three-pointers and sophomore guard Andrew Jones converting a three-point play.

Once again, however, a Baylor player got loose on the perimeter and didn’t miss — after Texas nearly got a steal, guard Jared Butler hit an open three to end that particular threat.

Then, down by eight with 2:26 remaining, sophomore guard Courtney Ramey had an open three of his own that missed.

Ramey and Coleman ultimately combined for 7-of-26 shooting (26.9 percent), many of them good looks that had the potential to change the eventual outcome. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones wasn’t much better in going 4-of-12 shooting and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. He also missed open teammates at times in a concerning trend.

No one had more open shots than sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa, who managed a plus/minus of +7 despite missing all five of his shots, including four attempts from beyond the arc.

Overall, Texas simply wasn’t aggressive enough taking open shots, instead pump faking or passing the ball and allowing the elite Baylor defense to get reset. And then there was the inability to get Sims the ball on the block or even at the key, where he’s been effective breaking down defenses off the dribble.

Once again, it wasn’t about effort — it was about execution.

“I thought our guys’ mental engagement was very, very good,” Smart said. “Obviously, we had those injuries in the last game and one thing that always strikes me is how much it affects our players when one of their teammates gets hurt. I think because they relate to each other in that way. I thought our guys did a great job in the last 48 hours or so in saying, ‘Here’s who we’ve got to be and we’re short-handed, but we have to step up and help each other.’”

Poor shooting, some bad turnovers, an inability of the guards to finish in the paint, and those defensive breakdowns that Baylor took advantage of were the difference in the game.

Since there’s no timetable for the returns of junior guard Jase Febres (knee), freshman forward Kai Jones (ankle), and sophomore forward Gerald Liddell (back), Texas will continue to play short-handed over the coming games. The good

And, fortunately, the schedule lightens with games against Iowa State, TCU, and Kansas State, but with the team’s NCAA Tournament odds sitting at six percent following Monday’s game, according to barttorvik.com, even winning those games won’t improve those tournament chances as much as wins in the last two games would have.

“We have to. We have to,” Smart said when asked if his team has what it takes to overcome this adversity.

“Absolutely, I think we have what it takes, but there’s a difference between knowing what to do and going and doing it. But we don’t have a choice,” he said. “It’s Iowa State on Saturday. I told the guys afterwards we talked going into the season about what we want to do and where we want to be. There’s never been a more important day than this.”