For the second consecutive Saturday, the Texas Longhorns walked quietly to the locker room as students rushed the court behind them. This afternoon, the overjoyed co-eds were clad in gold and black, as Colorado notched their third victory over a Top 25 opponent by shocking Texas, 91-89.
On its own merits, a Colorado win at home wouldn’t be that shocking this season, even against a vaunted opponent. It was the way in which the Buffaloes won this afternoon, though, that has the college basketball world buzzing. Alec Burks and Levi Knutson combined for 54 points — 37 of them in the second half — to erase a 22-point Texas lead en route to the win.
The win puts Colorado in good position to close the regular season on a high note, and gives the Buffs another quality win to add to the ever-important résumé. With a road game against Iowa State and a home date with Nebraska left on the docket, there’s no reason that Colorado shouldn’t finish the season with 20 wins and a 9-7 mark in the Big 12.
Throw in a pair of victories over Kansas State and wins against Texas and Missouri, and suddenly the Buffaloes look like they could make the Big Dance despite a completely empty non-con profile.
For Texas, the post-season picture lost some of its shine with today’s loss. The Longhorns are now in a first-place tie with Kansas in the Big 12, although they do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed if the two teams remain tied at the end of the season. To win the title outright, Texas must now knock off both Kansas State and Baylor, plus get help from Texas A&M or Missouri in their games against KU.
At the national level, the loss also could alter the team’s route through the NCAAs. While the loss to Nebraska already put a dent in Texas’ hopes for a No. 1 seed in the tournament, this loss will likely guarantee that the Longhorns will be slotted no higher than a 2-seed. Things could certainly change between now and Selection Sunday, but unless the Longhorns knock off Kansas a second time in the conference tournament, the 1-seed seems out of the question.
That also means that instead of a short trip to San Antonio for possible second weekend action in the NCAA tournament, the Horns could end up in Anaheim, New Orleans, or Newark. There’s certainly the chance that the Longhorns could still be put in the closest region as a 2-seed, which happened for Texas in 2008 when they were slotted in the Houston regional. Of course, it’s all speculation at this point, but had Texas not dropped these two games, there would be nothing to speculate about.
What looked good
In the early going, Texas did a fantastic job working the ball inside against a smaller Colorado team and taking advantage of open threes when the Buffaloes collapsed inside. Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph combined for seven of Texas’ first 11 points, while Gary Johnson scored at will inside and finished the game with 17 points.
After being tied at 11 coming out of the under-16 media timeout, J’Covan Brown fueled a 14-0 run for Texas with hot shooting from behind the arc. He looked unstoppable early, combining his great shooting with excellent court vision. Brown kept the offense churning early, consistently finding his teammates for good looks inside, and he finished the game with five assists. Unfortunately, things went downhill late in the first half.
What needed work
The first inklings of trouble cropped up late in the first, as Colorado chipped away at a 22-point Texas lead just before the half. The Buffs broke out a zone, and the Longhorns seemed completely confounded by the simple 2-3, despite the fact that they had decimated Baylor’s zone just a few weeks prior.
On one particular possession late in the first half, Gary Johnson received an entry pass at the free-throw line, the softest part of a zone defense. Instead of making a quick read and kicking to an open teammate as the defense trapped down on him, he made repeated pass fakes as Buffaloes swarmed around him, and he ultimately had to kick it back out to a guard at the top of the key.
The offensive troubles continued into the second half, as the same Longhorn team that put up 48 points in the first 20 minutes could manage just 14 points in the first 11:15 of the second half. Colorado shut down driving lanes, and Texas could do nothing more than back the ball out and settle for jump shots. When the team made it to the line, they simply couldn’t convert. The Longhorns finished just 20-of-38 at the line.
Meanwhile, the Texas defense was having a meltdown of epic proportions. Burks and Knutson went off on their 37-point outburst in the second half, with the Longhorns seemingly unable to stop anything. Burks needed just inches to get off — and drill — shots in front of Texas defenders, but the Longhorns constantly left Knutson wide open as they scrambled to stop ball penetration. Knutson entered the game as the Big 12′s best three-point shooter with a success rate of 47%, and he made 3-of-5 in a 2:50 span that put Colorado up for good.
Even down the stretch, Texas failed to put the clamp down on defense. With the game still in doubt, the Longhorns managed to come up with a few key stops, only to then give up weak offensive rebounds and easy tip-ins., Sometimes, the Horns simply turned the ball right back over with sloppy play.
On one particularly crushing possession, Texas played 34 seconds of excellent defense, only to have Jordan Hamilton step out of bounds trying to catch the airballed shot. With one second left on the shot clock, Knutson missed a three off the inbounds, but Colorado grabbed the miss and ended the possession with a three by Burks.
As the second half wound down, it seemed that there was no stopping Colorado. Not only were they scoring at will while Texas couldn’t buy a bucket, but the ball was bouncing their way. Still, Texas somehow put on another furious late rally, as they did in Nebraska a week prior. Once again, the Longhorns fell short, and the questionable shot selection certainly didn’t help matters.
After Colorado’s Cory Higgins stepped out of bounds with the Buffaloes up four and just 29 seconds left on the clock, Hamilton launched a line drive from 25-feet that clanked off the iron and essentially sealed the game. Earlier, Brown had wasted a Colorado turnover on an over-and-back call by jacking up a contested shot off a curl just seconds into the possession.
While the Longhorn shooters have often showed poise in tough road environments, the latest trend is for them to try to silence the crowd with ill-advised looks. In the team’s back-to-back road losses, Hamilton was a combined 10-of-40 from the field, including an 8-of-24 mark from behind the arc. If the sophomore star is going to lead Texas through adversity, he needs to create open looks, not just rifle it up from behind the arc.
Before fans jump off of the bandwagon, though, they should take a brief glance at the history book. The last Longhorn team to lose in Boulder was the 2003 squad, one that also lost in their Big 12 tournament opener against Texas Tech. That Texas team bounced back quickly and made it all the way to the Final Four. If this year’s Longhorn team can simply re-discover their killer instinct, the future can still be promising.
Next up: vs. Kansas State (20-9 overall, 8-6 Big 12); 8 P.M. CT, Monday