Basketball

Game Thoughts: Texas 71, KSU 70

Kerwin Roach. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Kerwin Roach. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Overall Game Thoughts by Tim Preston

Phew!

Texas overcame early and often foul trouble from their big men (all of them) as they had just enough to beat the Wildcats in Manhattan to keep their keep their hopes of a top three finish in the conference alive.

It was a game Texas had to win and, while the nature of the win won’t send Longhorn fans home feeling great about how they played, it was a road win in the conference in a place where wins have been tough to come by for UT.

Hooray? Nope. Sigh of relief? (Slow head nod with a cautious smile on your face) Yeah.

Offense:

The numbers look better today because the movement was so much better. One of the dangers of playing against zones is that, while finding holes/spots can get you open against a zone, the tendency is to find a soft spot and then plant and wait. That happened again and again on Saturday as the Longhorns continually let Baylor off the hook by allowing Baylor’s length to play even bigger by defending against little player movement.

KState, though not playing a zone per se, was executing with some zone principles as they switched ball screens and forced Texas to create penetration angles against an early set defense.

This time, Texas’ set plays and player movement were good enough to keep the Wildcats from being able to key on a spot and play extended against penetration or the pass.

The Longhorns ran a lot of high handoffs to force rotation early and did a good job of pulling their shooters around the top of the key to get action away from the ball moving side to side, allowing dribble penetration for Felix and Taylor.

It worked, too, as the Longhorns were able to get to the line 14 times in the first half (making 12) to offset a lack of post presence with both Cleare and Ibeh hanging out near Shaka on the bench.

The Horns were able to consolidate that dribble penetration by getting a hot shooting night from the outside where lane touches turned into open perimeter jumpers. The Horns scored 27 points from deep, including a step back late triple from Isaiah that pushed the lead out to two possessions with under a minute left.

It was a lead that held even after some poor rebounding and a missed front end of a one-and-one from Javan.

A solid bounce back game for the Horns on the offensive end, especially given the lack of production from Ibeh and Cleare.

Defense:

Not to demean the current Longhorns’ roster, but there’s some real smoke and mirrors **** going on with this defense. Well, and by smoke and mirrors, I mean when Prince is playing big minutes it’s good and when he’s not, it’s not.

During Texas’ five game stretch in the middle of the conference season where they held all five opponents to 63 or fewer points, Ibeh averaged 25.4 minutes per game.

In the four games since (85, 78, 78, 70 respectively) Ibeh has averaged 13.2 minutes per game. He’s also committed 17 fouls over that same time period, including three disqualifications.

When he’s not on the floor, Texas simply doesn’t have the length or athletes around the perimeter and big wing positions to keep people out of the paint and make good on the ball screen switches and mismatches that occur because of them.

That was the case tonight as it was against BU where time after time, Texas found itself with Felix guarding Iwundwu or Johnson down low (or Cleare guarding Edwards around the perimeter) when neither of those matchups are consistently winnable for Texas.

And, as previously was stated, when a team that wants to play inside out like the Wildcats doesn’t have to worry about a rim protector because he’s sitting on the bench, they’re going to take advantage. Which they did tonight.

Texas, in turn, had issues with staying in front of the ball against dribble penetration as their safety net in the post wasn’t there to bail them out. This led to a bunch of free throw attempts in the first half for KState and really kept them in the ball game.

Not terrible (other than Ibeh and Cleare’s foul problems). But not good.

A Look at the Numbers:

KSU shot 43.3% (26-60) overall, 21.4% (3-14) from three, and 71.4% (15-21) from the line.

Texas shot 46.9% (24-49 overall, 50% (9-18) from three, and 84.2% (16-19) from the line.

The Wildcats had more rebounds (36-27) and assists (17-11) and fewer turnovers (5-6).

Star of the Game: Isaiah Taylor

Taylor resumed his preferred role of team leader and playmaker tonight as he controlled the game when he was on the floor for Texas (though he did have to sit for a good chunk of the first half with foul problems).

Shaka did a nice job of not allowing Taylor’s defender to set up early by running him away from the ball after the initial set of the offense and it let Isaiah play in more space and with better awareness before ball screens.

That lack of ability to set for the defense meant that Taylor could attack against a still rotating defense which made him deadly off the dribble once he turned the corner.

Taylor used that advantage to get to the foul line (where he was a perfect 8-8) and get the ball out to open shooters against the sag.

Great game from Taylor when every point counted (19 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds).

The Endgame:

Okay, cool.

The West Virginia win over Iowa State tonight means the Longhorns still are playing from the driver’s seat in their quest to finish in the top half of the conference. Texas has a one game cushion against both Tech and Iowa State (who sit at 7-7 and 8-7 currently, though Tech should win at home against TCU tomorrow) as all three teams will want to stay as far away from that opening round game in Kansas City as possible.

This win gives Texas an edge, but there is plenty of work to be done.

Still, that purpose couldn’t have happened without pulling this one out.

And, as all Longhorn fans know, a win in Manhattan is worth it’s weight in gold, no matter how it comes.