The young Longhorns played better than a night ago, but didn't come out on top. Texas lost in overtime tonight to USC by a score of 59-53. For the first time this season, Rick Barnes' squad faced a team that was capable of matching its size inside, and Texas was held to only seven offensive rebounds (a paltry rebounding percentage of 20 percent). With as much difficulty as the Longhorns have shooting (Texas hit 37 percent of their field goal attempts, including going 2-11 from three point range), and protecting the ball (the Longhorns turned the ball over 17 times), Texas can not afford to miss out on second chance opportunities.
The game went just the way Kevin O'Neill had probably hoped. For well over twenty years, O'Neill's teams have played this way, grinding out tough wins behind the strength of a brutal defense that denies penetration. His reputation as a defensive guru is warranted, and while the Texas offense often defends against itself, Texas' low offensive rebounding totals are an O'Neill trademark.
It was a tight game all afternoon. Texas had a chance to win at the end of regulation, with Julien Lewis missing a decent look from three right before time expired. Twenty seconds into overtime, USC guard Jio Fontan found his way to the free throw line, and made both shots. Texas fought back, tying the game on a Julien Lewis jump shot with two minutes remaining, but on the next possession USC scored, and never gave back the lead.
Lewis led the way for Texas, scoring 17 points on 6-8 shooting. Sheldon McClellan scored 11 points, with Ioannis Papapetrou chipping in 10. On defense, Prince Ibeh did well patrolling the paint, blocking four shots in 24 minutes, and holding his own defensively in the low post against USC's experienced and physical front line.
Turnovers were again a problem for Texas. Papapetrou turned the ball over four times, while McClellan uncharacteristically gave the ball away three times.
As fans, what should we take away from this game? Everyone has to make up their own mind, but for me there are several things.
1. The Texas interior defense played well, particularly considering how big inside USC is, and how much the low post players are featured in the USC offense. Ibeh and Ridley held their own. While much was made of the USC offensive rebounding during this game, USC still only managed an offensive rebounding percentage of 33 percent. This is far from a disaster. The Trojans got 15 rebounds in part because they missed so many shots. The rebounding problem for Texas was really on the offensive end.
2. As for the Texas offense, there was some good, and some bad. Texas played its best offense of the season for stretches in the first half. The spacing was better much of the game, although it is hard to tell how much of that is intention, and how much of that is based on the style of defense USC employs. Still, for much of the game, the offense just wasn't generating many good scoring opportunities. The Longhorns are really working hard to get the ball inside -- I get that -- but there is a fine line between being patient and methodical, and being passive and stale. Texas played more assertive at times on offense, but a more serious injection of aggression is still needed. Texas still seems to be running plays, rather than attacking the defense.
3. A lot of Texas' problems on offense still come down to two things: turnovers and missed shots. It doesn't matter what the offensive sets look like, so long as Texas struggles to hold onto the ball and knock down shots, the offense won't be very good.
For Barnes' part, he seemed to think things were much better tonight then they were against Chaminade:
I thought there were some much, much better things. At least we competed. Came out and I thought played with more passion. Tried to execute better. -- Rick Barnes (Texassports.com)
Tomorrow's game against Mississippi State tips off at 1:30 PM central time, and will air on ESPNU. It is a very winnable game for Texas, as Mississippi State isn't playing very well. In their blowout loss against Marquette, the Bulldogs turned the ball over in over 30 percent of their possessions.