All week, the buzz in Kansas City surrounded the impending final game of the famous Border War, a rare third meeting between Kansas and Missouri in the Big 12 Championship. This time, it would be for more than just bragging rights, with the possible prize being a favorable NCAA path through the St. Louis regional. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, falling short against Baylor in the first semifinal on Friday night.
Although Missouri was denied the chance to face their rivals one last time, it didn’t seem to affect their motivation. The Tigers looked like a well-oiled machine against the Longhorns in the second semifinal of the night, coasting to an 81-67 win behind 23 points each from Kim English and Flip Pressey.
What looked good
The best offense for Texas on Friday night was the putback, as the Horns dominated the second-chance scoring department by a 22-11 count. Texas missed numerous short-range shots, but strong play inside led to gobs of offensive rebounds and extended possessions. The Horns posted an offensive rebounding mark of 50%, their third-best output of the year, and best since a February 4th win over Texas Tech.
Jonathan Holmes, Jaylen Bond, and Clint Chapman were the workhorses on the glass, combining to grab 35% of the offensive rebounding opportunities by themselves. Holmes racked up the putbacks, chalking up 11 points as a result. Bond missed some easy looks inside and finished with just four points, but his tenacity on the glass was huge. Chapman, meanwhile, seemed to always come up with key tip-ins when shots rimmed out.
The Horns also had some flashes of brilliance on the offensive end from Sheldon McClellan. It only happened on a few possessions, but when he took the defender baseline, the Tigers couldn’t keep him in front of them. He finished the night with 10 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
There aren’t many games left in this season, but the key to McClellan’s growth will be whether or not he becomes more aggressive and assertive. This team needs more players pressuring the defense, and he has the skillset to do it. Wherever the Horns head next week for postseason play, they will need McClellan to help Myck Kabongo and J’Covan Brown by attacking the defense with the bounce.
Brown posted 21 points against the Tigers with yet another strong second half, although he gave Texas fans a huge scare in the process. J’Covan made a layup with 16:27 to go that pulled the Horns to within four points, but fell into the row of photographers on the baseline and slammed his head into a camera. Brown was on the floor for what felt like an eternity, but ended up missing only about two minutes of game time. He was still aggressive following his return, scoring 12 of his points after the injury.
Kabongo’s performance was a mixed bag, but he seemed to get better as the game went on. He finished with five assists to just one turnover, but he seemed frazzled by the Missouri defense as the Tigers put on a run in the middle of the first half. After that bad stretch, he played a much more controlled game at the point, and the Longhorns tightened up their ball control.
What needed work
The big problem for Myck on Friday night was an inability to finish inside. That’s been a sticking point for the guard all season long, and quite frankly is the main reason we feel he’d benefit from another year at Texas. Kabongo needs to add some strength to finish through contact, instead of having to try — and usually miss — acrobatic shots through traffic.
As for those turnovers, it felt like a repeat of the game between the two teams in Columbia. Texas coughed it up six times in the first 12 minutes of last night’s game, including four times in a 2:42 stretch. During that brief span, Missouri expanded their lead from two points all the way out to 10, and kept the Longhorns at arm’s reach for the rest of the half. As we mentioned, Texas did a much better job controlling the ball after that disastrous stretch, but the team has very little margin for error against elite teams like Missouri. Every possession has to count if Texas wants to grind out wins against better competition.
On the other end of the court, the Texas defense really struggled. There were a few possessions early in the game where the Horns denied dribble penetration and forced Ricardo Ratliffe off the block, but otherwise the Tigers put on a clinic. Early on, the Longhorns went under the screens for Flip Pressey, a repeat of the deadly mistake they made in Columbia. Once again, the sophomore made Texas pay, drilling three early threes as part of his 23-point night.
The Longhorns also consistently failed to deny penetration, to stop the ball in transition, and to rotate quickly. The poor rotation allowed Missouri to kill them with crisp ball movement all around the court. The Texas defense was always a few seconds behind the ball and the play, leading to tons of open looks for the great Tiger shooters. As a result, they finished 45.5% from behind the arc and posted a 52.6% mark from the field.
In tempo-free terms, Mizzou scored 1.288 points per possession, the second-worst defensive performance for Texas all year. The worst came when the two teams met in Columbia, where the Tigers posted an offensive efficiency mark of 1.306 PPP.
The big picture
Fortunately, it appears that Texas did enough in beating Iowa State on Friday night to make their 14th-consecutive NCAA tournament. Barring any major bid thievery in the next 30 hours, Texas should be safely in the field and could possibly even avoid the First Four in Dayton. While a win over Missouri would have sewn up a bid and eliminated any of the drama from Selection Sunday, Texas at least was able to avoid a demoralizing blowout that could have raised questions about their tournament-worthiness.
Next up: NCAA Bracket Unveiling; Sunday, 5 P.M. CT, CBS