In his post-game interview with Craig Way, Texas head coach Rick Barnes said, "I don't care what people say; we should have won that game."
He's right, but unfortunately the final storyline was an all too familiar one for this young Longhorns team: they played well enough to win, but were undone by free throw shooting and an inability to close the game late.
Give the officials a nice assist for KU's win. As has seemingly often been the case, the officials treated Kansas like the home team in the Erwin Center, with the Jayhawks racking up 25 free throws while the Longhorns shot just 8. The disparity in whistles was frustrating, but once again it's hard to blame anyone other than yourself following a narrow loss when you shoot just 2 for 8 from the stripe. And credit to KU, who made 21 of their 25. Theres your ballgame.
That continues what has been a crippling trend for this team. Texas shot 13 for 20 from the line in a 2-point loss to UCLA. They made only 9 of 14 in an overtime loss to Baylor, and shot an atrocious 11 for 25 in an overtime loss to West Virginia. Throw in today's 2 for 8 shooting against Kansas and the Longhorns have shot a pitiful 35 for 67 (52%) in four narrow losses. It's not an exaggeration to say that this team could easily be 12-5 with five quality wins (counting UNC) instead of 8-9 and under .500 for the first time in over 14 years.
It's too bad, because other than the poor free throw shooting and the inability to close it out late, there was so much to like about the way these kids played this afternoon. They defended their asses off, limiting Kansas to 39% shooting overall and just 3 for 11 from beyond the arc. After being challenged by his coach to step up his game, Sheldon McClellan responded with his best game since November, scoring 18 points in 28 minutes and playing quality defense.
Jonathan Holmes was great when he was out there, and could have had a game for the ages had he not been so careless with his personal fouls -- scoring 10 points with a block and 3 steals in just 14 minutes of action, but struggling to stay on the floor because of foul trouble. Julien Lewis really played a great game on both ends of the floor, I was pleased with the defensive game we got from Cam Ridley, and Papi continued to flash that diverse range of offensive abilities that make him such a promising young player.
Although I hate to single him out given the great job he's done being asked to do so much for the team this year, Javan Felix just killed us down the stretch. All three of his turnovers came in the final 9 minutes of the game, with Kansas outscoring Texas 23-10 from Felix's first turnover to the end of the game, with both of Felix's two turnovers in the final three minutes leading to Kansas breakaway dunks. But just as costly as the turnovers was the way Felix defended the high screen set for Naadir Tharpe, failing to get underneath and allowing Tharpe an uncontested three to get KU within one at 53-52 with 4:42 to play. It was a tough afternoon for the freshman, who for all his successes this season has really struggled late in games -- no doubt in part because of how much he's been forced to play.
A frustrating season of near-misses continued on Saturday, but to end on a positive note: it was great to see these kids respond so well to a challenge, even though they're down and haven't had much to boost their confidence. They're fighting hard and competing to win, and the future really does look bright for this group. They'll grow from these experiences, and learn how to win.
Unfortunately, they just haven't quite been able to get there this year. And so the Longhorns fall to 8-9 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12, under .500 for the first time in more than 5,400 days.
Next Up: Monday night at Oklahoma