Texas head coach Shaka Smart talks about Texas Tech, closing down the stretch, tinkering with lineups, and attacking the rest of the Big 12.
On Kerwin Roach: Quick update on Kerwin Roach; he sees a doctor later this week and he’ll get another x-ray on his hand just to check on the progress of where he is. For right now, he’s not been cleared to practice or play. We’ll be without him for the short term and then we’ll go by how things go with his doctor’s appointment.
On if the short rotation will wear players down: Guys are playing heavy minutes. I think it’s important for us in such a competitive league and these games are so close, you want to do your absolute best to try and go win that game. At the same time, over the course of the season it’s a lot of demand to put on a smaller number of guys. Yeah, you want to find ways to play more guys. We have, obviously, a couple other scholarship guys we can play. Then, you’ve got to be really creative with the rests and the way that you’re handling them in practice, and the way you’re going about things. Fortunately, these guys are used to playing. They’re resilient. They’re excited about getting out and playing.
On if the increased playing time has helped younger players like Jericho Sims and Jase Febres: Yeah, I do. Those guys are making progress. Jase was slowed a little bit. He turned his ankle in practice a couple days before we played Oklahoma State, so he wasn’t quite himself in that game. I think, in general, our young guys with the increased experience that they’ve had, not just those two, all of them, they’re getting better. That’s what you want from freshman. They’re making strides. It never happens as fast as you want it to, particularly when you’re depending on those guys as much as we are. I do think they’re much further along than they were five or eight games ago.
On James Banks and if he has earned playing time: He hasn’t. He’s got to do more in practice from the standpoint of putting his body on plays and giving max effort all the time, just a consistent level of focus. He’s a great kid and is someone that’s shown in the past that he can help us. He’s got to go earn it.
On if he felt like they let one get away Saturday: You always do anytime you lose a game where you had a lead. It’s not just about that game, but I think anytime you find yourself in that situation there’s probably coaches across this league because of so many close games that have felt that way over these past couple of weeks. Yeah, there’s no question. We’re up 12 points or so with six minutes left and down the stretch you’ve got to execute better. Oklahoma State’s a team that really they’re offense is predicated on transition. We allowed them to get out in transition a few times that they did a great job of turning into baskets. Then, down the stretch we didn’t get it done.
On how much he explained that it isn’t about one basket or sequence, but about the last five minutes: Every basket counts for two points or three points. Every free throw counts for one point. When you are in a possession game, a one point game, every one of those matters whether it’s a missed free throw or fouling a guy to give him an and-one as opposed to just two points. No question, we can dissect that six minute game. We talk about with the guys all the time the three keys to the six minute game being solid on defense, take care of the basketball, make your free throws. Obviously, we didn’t do any of those three things at a level high enough and we still were within one point. I think it starts with Matt (Coleman). He’s got to be able to play with more poise and I know he can. He’s a guy that, as I mentioned, as a freshman he’s still learning. This is a heck of a league for a freshman point guard to have his introduction. At the same time, it’s exciting. He really stepped forward in that TCU game and I thought played a huge, huge role in winning us the game. Sometimes with freshmen there’s an inconsistency there. He had a great game last week, and he had a not-so-good game. Now he’s got to try and make the great games more consistent.
On Dylan Osetkowski and making more of a point to take advantage of his size matchup: That’s a big driver for us. The challenge with that is depending on who else you have in the game, teams may or may not have to guard those guys. For instance, when we have a bigger lineup in they’re going to be sitting in his lap, if not double and triple teaming him with Mo (Bamba) and Jericho (Sims)’ man, in which case we tell him get it up on the glass and go rebound it. No question, I think particularly when he’s in there at the four, that’s a time where we tried in that game, the TCU game, to keep going to him and going to him. We were running the same play over and over again, and I think particularly when he’s at the four spot, it’s a great time to get him the ball inside.
On if he expects all conference games to be close: I think you have to expect a high, high level of competitiveness on the part of the other team. Our guys have done a really good job of being highly competitive and fighting from the opening minute until the final buzzer. I think one thing we learned in the Oklahoma State or were reminded of is being highly competitive is not enough. You also have to have a level of poise. Again, we learned that in both games. That won us the game on last Wednesday and lost us the game against Oklahoma State. No question, every game in our league for the most part or 90 percent of them have been very, very close. I think the teams that can bring a high level of competitive spirit, whether it’s at home or on the road and give them self the best chance, if a team doesn’t then you really put yourself in a tough position in terms of trying to win the game.
On Texas Tech: I think Coach Beard is doing a terrific job with them. They’ve got a really experienced group, but they’ve mixed in some new guys. Actually, both of their freshmen are guys we recruited that are really good players. It starts with their older guys. They have a great group of guys that are veterans that have been there, that have won some games, that have been through a lot of experiences and he’s got them really bought into playing as a team. If you look at their statistics, I believe they only have two guys in double figures scoring wise, with Keenan Evans being by far their best scorer. They’ve got a lot of really good players that are bought in right now that are scoring five, six, seven, eight points. They’re capable of doing more than that on any given night. That’s the first impression along with what he’s got them doing on defense. They really have bought into playing phenomenal team defense, extremely aggressive. That West Virginia game that they played on Saturday was an absolute bloodbath. You know with those two teams being probably one and two in the league, not only in the turnovers they forced and the points they scored off, but also just the physicality with which they play, of course it came down to the wire.
On if Eric Davis can stay consistent: We all know he’s capable. We’ve known this. I don’t think there’s been any games this year or last year where he played well where we said “wow, I didn’t realize he was capable of that.” He’s very, very capable. I think for him, starting with the TCU game, I think he realized, and we had a conversation about it, that we really, really need him to step forward. Eric’s a feel good guy. He’s a guy that if it was up to me to orchestrate things, if I had this within my power, he’d go in and hit a quick three, get a layup, make a couple of free throws, then you can count on him to play really, really well the rest of the game. To his credit, he’s done a nice job in a few of our games, obviously in Oklahoma State he was better in the first half because he got a hip pointer during the game and it kind of slowed him, he’s done a good job in a lot of our games of after a slow start, being better. Whether he starts really well or whether he doesn’t start well we need him to be a source of a few things for us. Scoring, just calming us down and having a level of poise with our team because right now with not having Andrew (Jones) and not having Snoop, those guys were playmakers for us that made things a lot easier for Matt even though Matt has been a primary point guard all year. The next logical guy for that is Eric. Then, on the defensive end, not having Andrew and Snoop, those guys are long athletic defenders. I thought Eric, for most of the game, did a nice job on Jeff Carroll who’s a really, really good player for Oklahoma State. It’s something he’s capable of. He can do it. It’s almost like getting him to understand “hey, you can do it. We need you to do it. We feel good about you doing it.” Hopefully he’ll continue to grow with his maturation process of understanding that he’s the one that’s got to be the impetus behind how he plays.
On the depth and experience Texas Tech has for a coach in his second season: Coaches always talk about getting older and being older. When I first got here we had an older team, and there’s something to be said for having guys, whether they played for another coach or not, that have been in college and have winning experience or have experience in the Big 12, going through the twists and the turns. They had last year a really good group of juniors that you knew this year were going to be a special team. They’ve done a good job as a coaching staff adding to that. They’ve got a good blend. They had at least one guy sitting out last year that’s a really, really good player for them now. If you look around college basketball, the teams that have older, experienced guys tend to be more consistent. They tend to be tougher. Again, you combine that with the buy-in that they’ve created, it doesn’t just happen. I think coach Beard and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way that they’ve gotten those guys to sacrifice because there’s a lot of guys on that team who could say “I need more shots, or I need more of this, or playing time” and he’s really gotten them to buy-in to winning, team, and what goes into it.
On Coleman and the team going as he goes: There’s a fine line with those things and unfortunately we were on the other side of that line in the latter part of the Oklahoma State game. The reality is on some of those plays we had a play call that we made that we were trying to get into but Matt was being pressured so much that he went to go make a play. Earlier this year at certain times, even earlier in that game, and certainly this will happen much, much more throughout his career, he will turn those situations or has turned those situations into really good shots for us. Whether it’s him shooting or finding someone else. Wasn’t able to do that down the stretch and that was a big part of the end result. The point made about taking the ball out of his hand sometimes, he needs that. He’s not a robot. He can’t do it all himself. When Andrew went down with his wrist injury before any of this stuff that unfortunately has happened lately, that was the first thing we realized how impactful Andrew was helping Matt and being able to take Matt out of the game sometimes and have Andrew steady the ship even when they were in together. Now with Snoop not being out there, Snoop for the time being, Eric’s really the next most logical guy. You want him to score because you need that from him. We need Dylan to help us handle the ball some as well. Then, just depending on how the game is using Eric and (Jacob Young).
On where the team sits right now: There was a really good player at the University of Florida, he was there before I got there. There was this saying in the program that he had popularized and he used to say “we all we got.” The point was the guys you’ve got on your team, and I’m not just talking about players. I’m talking about coaches, everyone. You have to be connected around a common cause. As you said, nobody in college basketball, particularly in this league, is feeling sorry for anyone, any opponent. Winning is too valuable and it’s too hard for anyone to let down. The reality is we’ve got a lot of guys on our team that are healthy and playing that have done a lot of good things this year. To win against really good teams in this league, you’re going to have to have right now with the guys we have out, got to have the majority of our guys play well on a given night. That’s what we had against TCU. If you look, Jericho played well. Jase gave us eight early points. JY scored eight points in nine minutes, and of course Matt, Mo, and Dylan. Those guys all played well, and even then it took double overtime and we won by one point. When you’re down a couple guys, that’s what it’s got to be. That being said, we’re right there to win on Saturday even with the struggles down the stretch. I think one thing our team has done well, knock on wood, is we’ve put our self in position down the stretch, whether we ended up winning the game or not. Some of those games we’ve ended up winning, some of them we’ve ended up losing. As a coach or a player, you tend to focus on the close losses, the Duke game, Saturday’s game. There’s some we pulled out too, Iowa State, TCU, VCU. We’ve really got to work on continuing to get better in the last six or eight minutes of the game, whether we’re playing with the lead, the score’s neck and neck, or we’re playing from behind. We’re going to be in those kind of games.
On what he’s seen from the three-big lineup: It’s complicated because there’s certain things. If you take specific components of the game, it’s a no-brainer, let’s get those guys out there. Like with offensive rebounding, those guys are great offensive rebounders. Then there’s certain other things that go into getting a good shot that they aren’t as good. For instance, some of Dylan’s advantages as a player are negated a little bit when you move him from the four to the three. Not that he can’t be effective there, he can. Same thing for Mo. Mo right now, not in the exact same way as Jarrett but similar to Jarrett, more comfortable or more effective as a five than as a four, particularly if he’s playing with a four man that can shoot and stretch the four like Dylan. Jericho for sure. Defensively, I think they’ve been pretty good. I think they’ve done a really good job. Jericho and Dylan have typically have guarded the three man, or some of these teams play four perimeter guys. Tech will. They’ve both got to guard perimeter based guys when we’ve got three bigs in the lineup. Think they’ve done a pretty good job. Wednesday will be a real test for that because Tech’s a motion team. They do a really good job moving around. Sometimes they’ll go ultra-small and have four, even five guards in the game.
On Bamba’s three-point shooting and if he’s comfortable with him taking threes: He made a big one earlier in the half. As you mentioned, he took four. We don’t want him to take many more than that. Again, when we’re playing with those three bigs in the game a lot of times that’s what teams are going to give up. They’re going to leave him wide open at the top of the key. The question as a coach or as players on the court is that the best shot we can get in this possession. Sometimes the answer is yes. He’s a guy that, we’ve talked about this, we’re going to turn on a TV in about three or four years and see him just raining threes. He’s going to be a really good shooter. He is. He’s gotten better even in the course of his time here. He’s just not ready to be a 40+ percent three point shooter. He’s not that far away, and when he shoots it the right way it really looks good. The answer to your question is in a given game do we want him to shoot four? Probably not quite that many. It doesn’t always work that way in pre-determining exactly how many he’s going to shoot. It may be we run an action, we’re trying to get the ball to Dylan down low, he’s up high, there’s less than 10 seconds on the clock, the ball gets thrown back to him, he probably should shoot it. We don’t want a shot clock violation in that situation. I know this, he’s got to continue to get his butt in here and work on that shot. That’s the best way to be effective when you take it. His work ethic has been good. If teams are going to give you that shot, and they will, he’s got to have the ability to knock it down and we’re going to practice that.
On if losing Jones and Roach have hurt the ability to get out in transition and full-court press: Those are our two most athletic guards, perimeter guys. To answer the second part of your question, it’s tough right now to extend the court full-court a lot with the number of guys that we’re playing. Snoop was a big key to that, Andrew was as well. When we get Snoop back, we can go back to more of that. In terms of getting out in transition, Andrew’s as good a guard as I’ve coached in terms of finishing in transition and getting out and scoring. Just in terms of the back end of it, those guys are good at putting the ball in the basket and making the right play. We can still get out and run. Again, the question is when guys get fatigued, particularly in the second half of the game, we still have to have a dedication and a willingness to do what goes into scoring in transition. It starts with just running. Then the fine line, if you have a lead like we did the other day, is how much do you force in transition as opposed to slowing it down and working the clock. I feel like our team, with or without Snoop, obviously Andrew won’t be coming back to our team this year, we do need baskets in transition. We need to get out, throw the ball ahead and attack, it’s also a way to get the ball to our bigs.
On if he’s been able to visit with Andrew Jones: I try to go see him every day. I don’t want to comment too much on him just to respect the privacy of his family, but I enjoy getting a chance to see him. He’s got an incredible spirit. He’s a guy that is a great fighter and really provides a sense of perspective and understanding for me. Today, when we get done with practice this afternoon, I’ll go over there. Just want to, as we’ve mentioned many, many times be a support system as much as we can be for his family.
On what it’s meant to see the support for Andrew: We talked about this after the game, just the level of support that people have provided, it just says a lot about Texas and about UT and about how much people care about the student-athletes that make this place, athletically, what it is. I really appreciate the fact that people care so much, that they’ve reached out, and I know people will continue to do so because this is a long-term fight. I know it’s a daily battle for Andrew, but people being behind him and supporting him, even if it’s from afar, I know that means a lot.