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Prior to Texas’ 72-62 loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, Texas head coach Shaka Smart spent 20 minutes Monday speaking with local media. Throughout his entire tenure, Smart has given thoughtful answers to the questions of the media that continuously circle back to his core beliefs as a coach. The problem throughout his entire tenure has been that his team struggles to employ those core beliefs on the floor.
Dropping questionable games, even questionable games at home, is nothing new in Smart’s tenure. Dropping a home game to Oklahoma? That happened for the first time yesterday. With the list of failures of Smart’s time growing instead of shrinking at this point, adding a tough loss to Texas’ chief rival when any Big 12 loss is a huge detriment to postseason chances is just another thing Smart will have to answer for unless a different Longhorn team starts to show up over the Big 12 slate.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity here with the game against Oklahoma tomorrow. They’ve got a really good team, a veteran team. Really important for us on the defensive end to establish ourselves in this game early. Coming off of Baylor on the offensive end for us, we need to continue to get into the paint.”
Texas got off to one of its better starts on the offensive end in this game. After Jericho Sims missed a floater on the opening possession, Texas hit two fastbreak threes, two Sims buckets, and a Matt Coleman jumper. A 12-point stretch prior to the media timeout was part of the aggressive start Smart wanted to see from his team.
However, the opportunities afforded to the Sooners by the Longhorn defense and their ability to hit those shot opportunities kept the game close in the early stages. The Texas defense predicated on closing out jump shooters and forcing players to beat an athletic lineup struggled to hold the line on one of its core beliefs.
Texas’ offense still flowed for the first 10 minutes, and even appeared to bounce out of a brief lull halfway through the first half, but that bounce wouldn’t last.
From the 10:21 mark in the first half to the end of the game, Oklahoma outscored Texas 57-38. Much of that had to do with Texas’ shot selection leading to misses, leading to Sooner defensive rebounds.
It’s a small wonder the Longhorns outrebounded the Sooners by one, but they lost the defensive rebounding battle 30-28. When 40 shots don’t find the net, that tends to happen.
“We’ve got to make shots. We’ve got to make layups. We’ve got to make free throws and make more of our three-point shots, which I think our guys will. Our message to them going into this game and coming off of our last game has been to have a mentality of continuing to fight together. Staying united. Staying together. It’s so incredibly important when you get into conference play.”
Oklahoma shot 50 percent from the field, Texas 37.5 percent. Oklahoma shot 40 percent from three, Texas 27.6 percent. The only place Texas had a shooting advantage was at the line as Texas hit 86 percent of its free throws, and Oklahoma just 56 percent. However, the disparity was in the rate both teams got to the line. That 56 percent mark by Oklahoma resulted in 10 makes to Texas’ 6.
The Longhorns have struggled to make it to the free throw line this season, to put it lightly. They are one of the worst teams in terms of free throws per game. When the offense simply rotates the ball around the outside and doesn’t get Sims (or anyone) involved inside, there’s few opportunities to get to the line.
Those charity stripe opportunities then disappear when Texas tries to become the Houston Rockets. They don’t have a penetrator who can make that style of offense work, nor do they have the shooting.
Texas’ three-point woes are all over the roster. Matt Coleman missed all five of his shots from deep. Jase Febres never got hot and missed seven of his nine attempts. In the final five minutes, the commentators noted Texas was 3 of its last 19 three-point attempts.
Smart says he’s a player’s coach when it comes to shooting, but last night he failed to instill any restraint or focus on normal offense. He allowed his team to chuck and hope.
Texas never was united Wednesday on any sort of offensive philosophy or gameplan to attack the Sooner defense. Smart’s right that it’s important in Big 12 play, but it didn’t happen.
“In terms of challenges they present, ever since I’ve been here they’ve always done a terrific job of taking advantage of matchups. That’s a testament to coach Kruger, his staff, and also a testament to his players. They always seem to have some personnel that give you challenges or problems in different areas. Doolittle is one of those guys.”
Kristian Doolittle is skilled at creating his own shot, and was for the Sooners on Wednesday. He scored a game-high 22 on 8-of-16 shooting. Other Sooners found shots within the flow of the offense and made this a back and forth affair in the middle third of the game, including Austin Reaves and Jamal Bieniemy.
Texas’ man defense was susceptible to some switching Wednesday, and when Doolittle, Reaves, and even Brady Manek saw a matchup they liked, they took advantage of it. The trio combined to go 15-of-35 from the field and were the only Oklahoma players in double figures.
A clear, offensive philosophy created situations where Lon Kruger knew his team would have matchup advantages. Doing those types of things leads to road victories over chief rivals.
“In terms of our mindset, the most important thing is for our guys to be connected around an aggressive frame of mind, particularly at home, of just coming out with an aggressiveness to us knowing that four minutes into the game there will be a media timeout. The score will be whatever it is, but that aggressiveness needs to continue to build and mount until the final buzzer.”
Texas really did jump out to a strong start into the first media timeout, but as they have this season and as Smart seemed to warn against, they couldn’t hold onto what made that strong start happen.
The Big 12 always is a challenge, but to dig a two game hole from the get-go only makes things more difficult on a coaching staff that still has yet to figure out what it takes to put together a consistent regular season basketball product and record NCAA Tournament achievements.