Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #208
In a season where the Texas Longhorns are at risk of losing their 13-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances, the young team has had more than its fair share of chances to notch marquee wins. On the road against Kansas State and Baylor, the Horns had the ball on the final possession with a chance to tie the game. Both times, Texas failed to come up with the clutch basket. At home against Kansas, the Longhorns led by four with 3:24 to play, but didn’t score another field goal en route to a crushing loss.
All of this late-game futility adds up to an 0-6 record in games decided by two possessions or less, a stat that will haunt Longhorn fans if their team ends up on the wrong side of the bubble. Texas is now just 1-5 in games against the RPI Top 50, an important metric used by the NCAA Selection Committee. Thanks to Iowa State’s upset win over Kansas, the Longhorns can add one more Top 50 win if the Cyclones can climb at least two spots in today’s RPI update.
Without knowing who Texas will face in the Big 12 Tournament, it appears that the Horns have four more opportunities against RPI Top 50 squads, with three of them coming at home. The next chance for a résumé-building win comes tonight, in the form of the Missouri Tigers. It may seem early to start calling games “must-wins,” but the Longhorns are quickly running out of time to make their case. Texas needs to get over the hump and start turning these close losses into big-time wins.
Meet the Tigers
For an in-depth look at the Missouri players, stats, and tendencies, check out the preview from the first game between these two teams.
The first meeting
Texas opened in a zone defense against the Tigers, and Missouri quickly made the Horns pay with an incredible 73% mark from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes. Texas fell behind by as much as 16 points in the first half, compounding the poor perimeter defense with a string of miscues on offense. The Longhorns ended 22% of their possessions with a turnover, including back-to-back first-half possessions that ended on a shot clock violation and a five-count.
Even with the turnovers, Texas posted one of its most efficient offensive performances in conference play. The Longhorns scored 1.135 points per possession, the second-best mark achieved against the Tigers all year. J’Covan Brown was a huge part of the success, scoring 34 points on 62.5% shooting from the field, including an 85.7% mark from long range. Myck Kabongo also came up big for the Horns, aggressively attacking the lane as he logged his first collegiate double-double.
For the Tigers, Flip Pressey was the catalyst. He scored seven points in a 50-second stretch just after the Longhorns had cut the lead to five in the second half, effectively icing the win for his team. Just a 26% three-point shooter on the season, he drilled 3-of-7 against the Horns and consistently sliced up the Longhorn defense, scoring 18 to go with 10 assists. Ricardo Ratliffe was the main benefactor of the great Missouri guard penetration, scoring 21 points on a 10-of-12 shooting day.
Ratliffe hasn’t slowed down since the win over Texas, earning Big 12 Conference Player of the Week honors for dominating performances against Texas A&M and Baylor. The big man scored 17 points and grabbed boards against the Aggies, then followed it up with a career-high 27 points in the road win over the Bears.
On Wednesday night, the Tigers suffered their second conference loss in a game where the importance of Ratliffe’s efficiency in the paint was underscored. Although he scored 25 points in the loss, his string of superhuman shooting percentages came to an end with a 10-of-17 line against Oklahoma State. It was the first time since the season opener that Ratliffe had missed more than three shots in a game.
The Tigers followed up the loss with a surprisingly close game against Texas Tech at home. The Red Raiders actually held the Tigers to just 1.03 points per possession, the team’s worst offensive efficiency number in their 19 wins. Tech limited Ratliffe to an eight-point, four-rebound afternoon, forcing the Missouri guards to carry the team. Kim English responded and knocked down 4-of-6 from behind the arc, but the rest of the Tigers were just 2-for-15 from long range. Missouri still held on for a 13-point win over the Red Raiders, but looked rather vulnerable heading into an important week where they travel to Texas and host Kansas.
Keys to the game
1) Stop dribble penetration – The four-guard look from Missouri was practically impossible for the Longhorns to stop when the teams met in Columbia earlier this month. As a result, the scrambling Texas defense was consistently out of position in the paint, leading to easy hoops for the guards and tons of points for Ratliffe. The Longhorns must stop the ball tonight and force the Tigers to beat them with contested jumpers, or else they will find themselves in another shootout with the nation’s second-most efficient offense.
2) Keep the backcourt humming – Both Brown and Kabongo had solid outings against Missouri the first time around, and both performed very well at Baylor on Saturday afternoon. If the pair of Longhorn guards can continue that high level of play against the Tigers tonight, the team should be able to find the same kind of offensive success that they did at Mizzou Arena. Throw in a little bit of defense, and that couldbe enough for a win this time around.
3) Chapman must avoid the whistles – In addition to the dribble penetration, the foul trouble that kept Clint Chapman on the bench gave Ratliffe and Steve Moore a hall pass in the lane. Chapman was again hounded by personals in the loss to Baylor on Saturday, and you can be sure that the Tigers will attack him tonight. The big man will have to be smart with his fouls and maximize his minutes if the Longhorns want to earn the upset.
4) Win the battle on the glass – Texas actually did a good job keeping Missouri off of the offensive glass during the first meeting, holding the Tigers to an offensive rebounding mark below 29%. Unfortunately, there weren’t many missed shots from Mizzou, so that strong performance on the boards didn’t amount to much. If the Longhorns can actually force some misses in this one, another solid night on the glass will make things much tougher for the Tigers this time around. The Horns should also be able to capitalize on the offensive end, as they reclaimed 47.1% of their misses in the first game and turned those extra chances into 17 points.