If it weren’t for assistant coach Luke Yaklich and his stingy defense, who knows where this short-handed Texas Longhorns basketball team would be at right now. Behind strong defensive play and clutch three-point shooting, Texas managed to position themselves squarely on the bubble despite playing with their backs against the wall throughout the last three weeks of the regular season.
But after getting stunned by Oklahoma State at home on Saturday, the Longhorns push towards a postseason berth was put to a halt, setting themselves up with another do-or-die scenario in the conference tournament.
Fittingly, drawing Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament serves as the ultimate final test for Shaka Smart and this Texas team. This game essentially feels like a must-win for both teams in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
It was Texas Tech who knocked Yaklich and his Michigan Wolverines team out of last year’s tournament in the Sweet 16.
The matchup — UT vs. TTU
These two teams are headed in completely opposite directions right now. Texas has won five out of their last six games. The Red Raiders dropped four straight games to close the season.
Royce Hamm and Brock Cunningham were unsung heroes for Texas when these teams last met in Lubbock. The two players, who average 4.1 PPG combined, totaled 17 points (8-of-10 shooting) and 11 rebounds in a 68-58 win. Along with Matt Coleman playing his A-game, Texas will need absolutely all they can get from Hamm and a banged-up Cunningham (swollen ankle) again tomorrow.
With high stakes on the line, expect to see a dogfight of a battle on the defensive side of the ball between these teams once again. Both are at their best when playing at a slower pace while locking offenses down in the half-court. This marks the fourth meeting in the past year between two of college basketball’s top defensive assistant coaches, Yaklich and Texas Tech associate head coach Mark Adams.
As a team, Texas has developed a winning identity through their defense this season. Dating back to the game at Kansas on Feb. 3, the Longhorns rank ninth in defensive efficiency over the last 11 games, according to BartTorvik.com.
Stat check — Texas defense and three-point shooting
15-3 record when holding teams under 65 points this season.
8-3 record in Big 12 play when holding teams under 65 points.
7-0 record in Big 12 play when shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc and holding teams under 65 points.
Amidst all the adversity faced and casual college basketball fans preaching “Chris Beard to Texas”, it’s remarkable to think that Beard may be the head coach missing the tournament this season, not Smart.
With that being said, despite several injuries, this Texas coaching staff has done an outstanding job of turning the season around with the 7-8 available scholarship players they’re currently working with.
College basketball is a weird sport, man. Defense is veering towards becoming the focal point of championship basketball again. Sometimes an injury or two can lead to a team finding their most effective lineup/rotation.
Win or lose, who knows what the future holds for Smart at Texas beyond this season. He’s yet to be on the right side of the coin with roster turnover. Unlike last year’s NIT championship team, everyone on the roster returns next season. Patience is a virtue more often than not.
Let’s do this one more time. Beat Tech.