The Texas Longhorns hadn’t won in a full month until last night, when after a slow start Shaka Smart’s team made a big run in the second half and beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders by nine. With that win the Longhorns get to play again today against West Virginia.
There are a lot of things to like about basketball, but first among them is the players. Basketball is at its heart a player’s game — at least during the contest, coaches are often little more than influential spectators — and so some of the joy of watching the game comes from watching the players find their way through problems.
Last night there were problems galore. The number one problem was that Texas could not knock down open shots — you run offensive actions to create open shots, but you still have to make them to register a score. And yet the players muddled through, kept things together, defended at a pretty high level all game, and finally made a run.
The thing that was most impressive last night is that after a month straight of losing, the effort and intensity were still there. The Longhorns could have chosen to curl up into a ball and give up, but they didn’t. They played hard all night, and for a few fleeting minutes in the second half they found that difficult balance between control and aggression that lies at the heart of winning basketball.
Last night Kendal Yancy was critical in providing that balance, fighting to make aggressive plays while also making the right plays. He led the team in rebounding, came up with two steals, and went 4-5 from the floor. When he, Kerwin Roach, and Andrew Jones all played together on the floor Texas was outstanding, outscoring the Red Raiders by 19 points in 23 possessions.
Smart’s men will need more of that balance tonight. The West Virginia pressure — and to be clear we are talking about both what the Mountaineers do defensively as well as how they attack on offense and on the glass — rides right up to the edge of the practical, finding a favorable balance of control and aggression more often than not. And it forces opponents to ride right on that edge as well.
The game airs at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU.