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No. 15 Texas vs. Wyoming: Three things from the 86-63 win over the Cowboys

Max Abmas looked more comfortable, the Longhorns executed multiple layers of their defensive game plan, and

AUSTIN, Texas — A season-high 23 points from senior guard Max Abmas paced the No. 15 Texas Longhorns in an 86-63 win over the Wyoming Cowboys on Sunday at the Moody Center.

Four other Longhorns scored in double digits, including 17 points from senior forward Kadin Shedrick on 7-of-10 shooting while adding two assists, two blocks, and two steals, and 12 points apiece from junior guard Tyrese Hunter and sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell, who also had a team-high nine rebounds.

Two stretches helped define the game for Texas — a stretch of seven missed shots by Wyoming over three and a half minutes starting at the 5:24 mark during an 11-3 run by the Longhorns and an 11-0 run in the second half after the Cowboys cut the deficit to 12 points with a three-pointer.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Abmas is getting more comfortable and it started on the break

Against two Power Five teams in the Empire Classic, Abmas wasn’t particularly efficient as a shooter, hitting 10-of-33 shots from the field (30.3 percent) and 4-of-15 shooting from three (26.7 percent). In the win over Wyoming, Abmas looked more comfortable in shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from three. Two of those threes came in transition a little more than halfway through a first half during which the Longhorns struggled to start the game. The third, a contested shot from the corner to beat the shot clock and the halftime buzzer, extended the Texas lead to 15 points at the break.

Asked how to defend Abmas, Cowboys head coach Jeff Linder responded, “Obviously, hope he misses, but hope’s not a strategy.”

Linder thought Abmas hadn’t found his rhythm through his first five games at Texas, so Wyoming wanted to keep him from getting open looks in transition, exactly what happened with the game tied at 15-15 with eight and a half minutes left in the first half.

“If we can guard in the halfcourt, we felt like we had a better chance, where he’s so dangerous is in transition with this group and we had those two missed layups right there in that stretch where it was kind of a tie game and then he comes down and makes two threes and that was a big point of emphasis for us was really trying to locate, find him in transition, and staying out of it because they’re so good in transition,” said Linder.

Abmas started 1-of-5 shooting in the game before hitting 7-of-9 shots, a stretch that started with those clean looks on the fast break.

“We were kind of sitting in a good spot to where then now you get down six, you get down eight, now he sees the ball go in, which up into that point he hadn’t been seeing the ball go in, and then now that’s what kind of got him going,” said Linder.

Texas executed a multi-layered game plan with a key adjustment

Longhorns head coach Rodney Terry believes that the Cowboys have a chance to contend in the Mountain West this year, in part because of the offensive acumen of Linder, whose team entered the game shooting well from the field and from three with several accomplished scorers at multiple levels of college basketball and a team-wide knack for securing offensive rebounds.

Since returning from the Empire Classic, Texas emphasized playing pick-and-roll defense and entered the game wanting to take away three-point shots by Wyoming, which only made 4-of-13 attempts from three, well under their season average of eight made three-pointers per game. The Cowboys responded by attacking the Longhorns defense on the short roll and getting to the basket with 18 of their 26 first-half points coming in the paint.

Terry and his coaching staff entered the game prepared to make a key adjustment — switching pick and rolls and trusting the bigs to keep their hands up to contest threes on the perimeter and the guards to defend the inside leg of the Wyoming bigs with help from the back side.

“We made some adjustments throughout the course of the game, we really took away some things that they wanted to do and they weren’t comfortable playing in the pick-and-roll action,” said Terry.

The back-side help was particularly effective at times in the second half, producing several steals that helped Texas get out into transition, precisely the situations that Linder wanted his team to avoid as the Horns finished with a 14-4 advantage in fast-break points.

Throughout the games, Shedrick felt Texas did an effective job protecting the rim as Wyoming was 14-of-35 shooting on layups and the Longhorns blocked seven shots.

“They got in there quite a bit, but we were trying to be tough with our contests going straight up, making competitive plays, and I thought we did that pretty well tonight. What we can build off from there, though, is coming down and grabbing the rebound when we make those competitive plays — they got quite a few offensive rebounds on those and we can definitely build in that area,” said Shedrick.

The standards set by other teams reverberate across the athletic department

Terry opened his post-game press conference with an acknowledgement of the football team reaching the Big 12 Championship game.

“I like to start off by just giving a shoutout to our football team. What they’ve done this entire season, coach Sark and his staff, they’ve had an incredible year. I know we’ve enjoyed watching them play all season long and I’ll reference those guys throughout the course of the season of how connected they’ve been as a as a team this year and how they play for one another,” said Terry.

“Their defense has been stellar this year and again, they found a way to get things done from an offensive standpoint, but we can’t be more excited about those guys and the opportunity that they have this weekend to bring a Big 12 championship home in the last season in the Big 12. So kudos to those guys for a great year and one more for them to get done this weekend. We’ll be there cheering them on and they are not hoping, but expecting them to bring home the Big 12 championship this weekend.”

The players have clearly taken notice of the success this fall by other teams in the Texas athletic department — when a reporter mentioned the wins by football and volleyball, Shedrick was quick to mention the Big 12 title by the women’s soccer program, too.

“We’re held to a high standard here and they expect excellence from every team and so we expect excellence out of ourselves,” said Shedrick. “We’re going to compete for a Big 12 championship this year and we’re going to come out every night and fight. We know every every night is gonna be a dogfight, but we’re ready for to meet those expectations.”

For Abmas, one of the reasons why he picked Texas after leaving Oral Roberts were the expectations and the ability to compete at the highest level.