The Texas Longhorns took a critical step towards earning one of the final bids to the NCAA tournament tonight with a 65-53 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. After a close first half, the Texas Longhorns came out like a ball of fire in the second period, scoring 35 points in 27 second half possessions. Cameron Ridley led Rick Barnes' squad with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Toddrick Gotcher netted 12 for the Raiders.
The Longhorns struggled shooting the ball in the first half, going 11-29 from the floor in the first period, including connecting on only 3-13 three point attempts. But the potential for an offensive explosion was evident; poor shooting concealed what was fairly well run offense. Texas' passing was crisp (with eight first half assists on 11 made shots), but frequently Rick Barnes' squad couldn't connect to finish off the play.
The highlight of the first half occurred when Isaiah Taylor curled off a screen in Texas' motion offense to receive a pass, and found Jonathan Holmes rolling to the hoop. Holmes converted the shot, and earned a trip to the free throw line.
Despite excellent ball movement and only four first half turnovers, Texas went in to the locker room at half time with only a four point lead. The shooting was the clear culprit. Aside from Kendal Yancy, who was 2-4 from beyond the arc in the first half, no other Horn was able to hit anything from outside. Holmes was 0-3 from three point range, with all three shots coming on excellent looks.
Texas got the second half going doing work on the offensive glass. Both Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley scored quickly in the second half on putback shots. The Longhorns extended their lead a possession later when offensive rebounds by Myles Turner and Ridley enabled the Horns to retain position and eventually led to a three point play for Ridley with just under 16 minutes remaining. The Horns were in control, with Texas' big front line wearing down the Red Raiders inside.
Texas' ball movement and dominance on the glass continued for the rest of the game, and the Raiders were unable to stage a rally.
So now it is on to tomorrow night, when Texas faces Iowa State at 6 PM CDT. A win against the Cyclones almost guarantees Texas a trip to the NCAA tournament. With a loss, the Longhorns still have a decent chance of going, but it will depend on how the other bubble teams perform in the coming days.
- Isaiah Taylor was exceptional tonight, controlling the flow of the game, and finding teammates for easy baskets. Taylor's 12 points and 7:2 assist to turnover ratio perhaps understates just how well he played. Raider guards simply could not stay in front of him. He was able to get anywhere he wanted on the floor, at pretty much any time.
- Texas' team passing was due to more than just Taylor. Ball movement led to good looks for the Longhorns all night. Rick Barnes' squad registered 17 assists on 25 made baskets from the floor. It is worth pointing out just how unusual it is for a team to log this many assists in a game where it only connects on four three point attempts. 40 percent of all assists in Division I hoops come on three pointers, even though typically only one in three shot attempts originates from beyond the arc. This means that high assist totals and exceptional three point shooting frequently go hand in hand. It is rare to get a bunch of assists in a game that you don't shoot the ball well from long distance.
- The Texas big men did work on the offensive glass. So much of what makes Cameron Ridley effective on offense is the work that the does on the offensive boards. Tonight, we saw exactly how much offense that he can create, as the Texas center was a force, pulling down five offensive rebounds. Ridley wasn't the only Horn doing work on the glass; the Longhorns rebounded 50 percent of their own misses tonight.
- Kendal Yancy was perhaps overshadowed tonight by Ridley and Taylor, but Yancy had quite a game himself. Any time a player scores 13 points on nine shots from the floor and one free throw, while not logging a single turnover, he is having quite a game. But in addition Yancy got in on the passing fun, assisting on five teammate scores, including a nice drive and lob for a Ridley dunk in the second half.