With snow outside and temperatures in the teens, Oklahoma opened the doors of the Lloyd Noble Center, allowing any and all to enter the building for a game against the hated Texas Longhorns. The laissez-faire admission policy led to an overflow crowd, with 12,000-plus Sooner fans filling the seating bowl and spilling into the upper concourse, clad in their free white “Cheer Like a Champion” t-shirts.
Unfortunately for the Sooner faithful, the Longhorns made sure there was little to cheer for, champion-like or not. Texas once again rolled into a hostile road environment and silenced the crowd, which included Heisman-trophy winner Sam Bradford and “musician” Toby Keith. The Longhorns led from wire-to-wire, cruising to a 68-52 win in front of their own star, NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant.
What looked good
As it has been all season, the Longhorns relied on their trademark defense to build an early lead that they would never relinquish. Texas held the Sooners to just four field goals on their first 17 attempts, allowing the Horns to race out to a 15-point lead after just 10 minutes of play.
While the Sooners managed to attack the paint early, the Texas bigs created enough havoc to force OU to miss eight shots within just a few feet of the rim. For the ballgame, the Sooners managed to shoot just 30% from inside the arc, well off of their season average of 53%.
With so many missed shots early, the Longhorns were able to exploit their advantage on the boards. Oklahoma managed just one offensive rebound in the first half, and were held to a paltry 23.1% offensive rebounding percentage. In the midst of a tough shooting night, OU was rendered practically useless on the offensive end without the benefit of second opportunities.
On the offensive end, Dogus Balbay set the tone early for Texas, as he continued his recent trend of aggressively attacking the rim. With teams now forced to stop Balbay as he pushes the ball up the floor, Texas has an even more potent secondary break. If the initial defender doesn’t stop the ball, opponents are having to help and rotate before the defense is even fully set. That defensive scrambling leads to wide-open jumpers and three-pointers for the rest of Texas’ starting five, and this new wrinkle in the Longhorn offense is helping the team jump on opponents early.
Balbay even knocked down a mid-range jumper in this one, something that will be a huge boost to the offense if it becomes a more common occurrence. Without the threat of a jumper, defenses can still sag off of Balbay, an issue that made Texas’ inside game incredibly ugly last season. If Dogus can mix in a nice jumper here and there, the Longhorn frontcourt will have even more success inside.
With Balbay leading the team in scoring early, it allowed Jordan Hamilton time to warm up on a night where his outside shot wasn’t falling. Hamilton was just 3-of-9 from long range, but adjusted and used the dribble-drive along the baseline. He also capitalized on some great interior passing from Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson to add a pair of easy layups. By the final buzzer, Hamilton led all scorers with 20 points.
It wasn’t just Hamilton that benefited from extra passes inside. Texas scored 28 points in the paint against the Sooners, thanks in large part to four assists from Johnson, who also added 14 points in a well-rounded performance. The solid post feeds also allowed Thompson to log an efficient 4-of-5 shooting night and an 11-point effort.
What needed work
Writing this section of the game reports has grown a little tougher as the season goes on. With the Longhorns winning 15 of their last 16 games, including nine conference wins by an average of 18.1 points, sometimes it can be hard to find things to nitpick. That being said, there is no such thing as a perfect performance, so pick nits we must.
While the Longhorns dominated the defensive glass, they did have issues giving up easy putbacks. When the Sooners did manage to grab an offensive board, they actually capitalized at a fairly high rate. OU turned nine offensive rebounds into 10 second chance points. Those easy buckets usually came when the Longhorns failed to box out on the weak side, and missed shots fell right into the hands of a Sooner waiting for the tip-in. Against a better rebounding team, allowing 1.11 points per offensive board could be disastrous.
The Longhorns also played a little loose with the basketball, perhaps a result of being in control the entire way. Texas coughed it up 14 times, giving them a turnover rate of 22.6%, a significant jump from their season average of 18 percent. Most of the Longhorn turnovers seemed to be a result of lazy passes or of the intended recipient simply not being awake. Just like the offensive rebounding, this won’t matter against much of Texas’ remaining schedule, but it definitely needs to be drilled down before the Horns face tougher opponents.
The bench was also largely absent in this game, although Matt Hill had some solid defensive possessions against OU big man Andrew Fitzgerald and grabbed five boards. But aside from Hill’s contributions, the bench was practically non-existent. Hill, Jai Lucas, Alexis Wangmene, and J’Covan Brown combined to play just 38 minutes, failed to score a point, and turned it over twice. It’s certainly a positive to have all five starters score at least 11 points, but Texas will need more bench production in future games.
Up next: vs. Baylor (16-7 overall, 6-4 Big 12); Saturday, 3 P.M. CT
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