For the second time in less than three weeks, Chris Beard is trying to convince everyone that Saturday’s game against the No. 11 Texas Tech Red Raiders (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) is just another Big 12 contest.
“I see it as a chance to play one of the best teams in the country in mid-to-late February on our home floor, and these are the kind of games we’re going to be in down the stretch here,” the Texas head coach said. “This is what our remaining schedule looks like; this is what the Big 12 tournament looks like. This is, ultimately, what the national tournament looks like.”
But it’s clearly not just another game for the No. 20 Texas Longhorns (19-7, 8-5 Big 12) at the Erwin Center because Texas Tech fans aren’t treating it like another game — the scarlet and black faithful managed to secure the code to purchase single-game tickets from a portal reserved for season-ticket holders, buying enough in bulk that school officials stopped public sales, choosing instead to reserve mezzanine seats for Texas students.
After some fans camped outside United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock for days before Tech’s 77-64 win against Texas on Feb. 1, Red Raiders supporters have been looking forward to taking over the Erwin Center to continue heckling their former head coach.
And even though Beard has downplayed the impact of the venomous hatred coming from his former admirers, being called a traitor clearly upsets him enough to confront on Oklahoma fan who hurled that phrase at him after the Texas win in Norman on Tuesday.
“When the game’s over and I’m walking off the court and somebody is within touching reach and they start saying things personal, I’m not going to let that go by,” Beard said on Thursday. “I’m gonna take up for myself. To me, I just don’t understand why it’s a part of sports.”
During the game, those types of comments from Texas Tech fans in attendance will certainly be frequent as Texas tries to learn some lessons from the double-digit defeat in Lubbock when the Red Raiders were the more aggressive team throughout much of the contest.
Texas Tech took 11 more free throws in that game, had nine more rebounds, generated nine steals, and blocked seven shots — Texas players will have to be more physical in the paint on both ends of the court, especially slowing down forward Bryson Williams. But the Longhorns need to accomplish that goal without fouling after guard Kevin McCullar attempted 15 free throws on Feb. 1.
The Texas bigs have to be more aware of double teams coming from behind them and the guards have to find ways to get into the middle of the Texas Tech defense, exactly what Mark Adams designs his defense to avoid.
“We’re gonna have to get a lot more productive and tough around the baskets with the rebounding game and they’ve got really good players,” Beard said.
Forward Christian Bishop has provided that toughness for the Horns in recent games and played well in Lubbock with 11 points and eight rebounds, but only played 17 minutes because of foul trouble.
Texas needs more scoring from forward Timmy Allen in this game, too — the team’s leading scorer only managed five points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first meeting. Likewise from guard Andrew Jones, who missed all five of his three-point attempts and was 1-of-7 shooting from the floor, but has played well in recent games, including scoring 20 points against Oklahoma on Tuesday.
“I think we proved that we can bounce back,” Jones said of the Oklahoma win. “When we play through adversity and together, we can grind out games.”
KenPom.com gives Texas a 57-percent win probability with an expected score of 62-61. The Longhorns remain undefeated this season when holding opponents under 60 points and haven’t lost to a ranked to a ranked opponent at home. The Red Raiders have won three straight games in Austin, but are only 2-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season.
How to Watch
Time: 11:30 a.m. Central
Radio: Texassports.com affiliates
Odds: The Longhorns are 3.5-point favorites over the Red Raiders, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.