Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:46AM

#1/1 Kentucky Wildcats 63, #6/7 Texas Longhorns 51

As the Kentucky Wildcats charged out of the locker room in the second half, college basketball fans likely felt like they had seen this script before. The visiting Longhorns had played a tough 20 minutes to reach the half tied with Kentucky, taking away enough of UK’s strengths to overcome their own offensive struggles. But, as it had been with Providence and Buffalo earlier this year, the Longhorns soon saw just why No. 1 Kentucky is the most dangerous team in the country. The Wildcats surged ahead with a 10-0 run to open the half, and even built a lead as large as 16 points with less than 12 minutes to go.

Willie Cauley-Stein carried UK to victory
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associatd Press)

But unlike the Friars and Bulls, the Longhorns refused to be buried. With 23,000 members of Big Blue Nation screaming at deafening levels, Texas clawed its way back into the game. Led by a poised Demarcus Holland, the Longhorns went on a 7-0 run of their own, and whittled the lead down to just five points with 1:44 to play. The Longhorns could not get any closer, as they failed to score on their final four possessions, and Kentucky padded the final margin with free throws and an authoritative alley-oop from Willie Cauley-Stein to cap the victory.

Although the constant whistles were frustrating, and the Longhorns had many moments that were extremely maddening for fans, this had to be one of the most positive losing experiences for the program in recent memory. Texas stood toe-to-toe with the nation’s best team in a hostile road environment and battled through adversity that would have certainly caused recent Longhorn teams to crumble. Without starting point guard Isaiah Taylor, and with foul trouble forcing coach Rick Barnes to constantly shuffle his big men, the Longhorns acquitted themselves well on the biggest of stages.

With the team now off all week due to finals, let’s take a look at six notes from a great showdown that Rick Barnes described as “a big-boy game.”

1. Horns dominated the glass, but lost the key rebounds

Kentucky entered the game having won more than 48% of their offensive rebounding chances. That ability to extend possessions and get easy follows in the lane had helped to buoy their strong offensive efficiency numbers. Texas did a fantastic job eliminating that aspect of the UK offense in the first half, using a 2-3 zone to force Kentucky into jump shots, while grabbing almost every single rebound. The Longhorns won back 87.5% of UK’s missed shots in the first half, and prevented Kentucky from scoring any second-chance points.

The final numbers say that Texas dominated the boards, as the Longhorns were the first team to win the rebounding battle against Kentucky this season, posting a 42-31 edge on the glass. However, Texas was so dominant on the boards in the first half that those overall stats obscure the fact that Kentucky won the boards when it mattered the most. The Wildcats reclaimed 67% of their missed shots in the second half and turned those into 10 second-chance points. On numerous occasions in the second half, Texas played excellent defense and forced a missed shot, only to see the Wildcats win it right back and make an easy follow.

2. Cameron Ridley continued to struggle

The last two weeks have been extremely tough for the big man, and the first few minutes against Kentucky again put Ridley in a bad spot. In Texas’s first six possessions, Ridley missed a jumper and was tagged with two offensive fouls, forcing him to the bench for the remainder of the first half, having seen just three minutes of action.

The big man was able to play an additional ten minutes in the second half, but again found himself whistled for an offensive foul midway through the second frame. Ridley has looked very tentative in recent weeks, seeming to freeze against pressure and double-teams. With the added complication of offensive fouls limiting his effectiveness even further, his only real impact on the game was five turnovers, including those three offensive fouls and a travel 25 feet from the basket.

Texas proved that they could hang with one of the nation’s best frontcourts, even with Ridley sitting on the bench. However, if the Longhorns want to be able to compete at the highest level, they will have to find a way to raise Ridley’s confidence once again and generate consistent production from him in conference play. If not, they will find it tough sledding against teams with comparable size.

3. Prince Ibeh was an unlikely hero down low

With Ridley neutralized early, Prince Ibeh was called on to provide minutes from the bench. On defense, his presence in the lane caused problems for the Kentucky frontcourt, as he made their shots in and around the lane very difficult. Ibeh battled foul trouble of his own, and you could clearly see the difference in the UK offense when he was riding the pine.

On the other end of the court, Ibeh was the recipient of some nice drive and dish plays that he was able to flush home. As usual, every one of his trips to the free-throw line was an adventure, where no one — including Ibeh himself — could guess where each of his shots would go. On the night, he was just 2-for-8 from the line, bringing his season average down to 29.4%. With Ibeh’s defense being an integral part of Texas’s success, his ineptitude at the line will continue to be a glaring weakness for the Horns, and one that teams will surely exploit in close games.

Demarcus Holland impressed against the Wildcats
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associatd Press)

4. Demarcus Holland’s confidence is soaring

With Taylor out of action, Holland has shown much more of the offensive aggression of which we’ve seen flashes in the last two seasons. His ability to pick the right opportunities for a quick drive have been on display in the last five games, and that led to five assists and a key three-point play last night.

Holland also took over quite a bit of the ball-handling duties against the Wildcats, as Javan Felix struggled at the point. Kentucky likes to throw in some backcourt pressure to hurry opponents and force turnovers, but Holland proved himself a poised floor general in breaking that pressure. He repeatedly brought it up the floor and initiated the Texas offense, while only turning it over once on the night.

While Holland’s emergence as a steady ballhandler and floor general is a big development in Taylor’s absence, it also gives the Longhorns additional options once Isaiah returns. If opponents know that Holland is able to drain it from deep — where he’s now 5-for-11 on the year — and can also easily find space with the bounce, it will very difficult for opponents to focus solely on the big men when he and Taylor are on the court.

5. Felix resisted the temptation to take bad shots

With Holland taking over more of the ballhandling, Felix was able to slide back into his more natural role off the ball. As a result, it seemed like he took far fewer questionable shots, although his rushed three in the final few possessions came at an extremely inopportune time. Instead, Felix often opted to put the ball on the floor and find space inside the arc, where the length and speed of Kentucky forced him into some acrobatic misses.

Even though Felix wasted less possessions by firing up bad, early shots, he did still cost Texas numerous possessions in other ways. Poor ball control and questionable passes resulted in five turnovers for the guard, something that was absolutely crippling in a close game against a highly-efficient team.

It will be interesting to watch the backcourt dynamic in these final weeks of the non-conference schedule. If Holland emerges as the primary ballhandler, there’s reason for Texas fans to be optimistic that Felix will not only improve his shot selection, but also cut down on turnovers. It’s clear that Felix was put in a poor position by the Taylor injury, but Holland may be able to give him an opportunity for redemption by putting him back in his natural role.

6. The Longhorns again struggled with turnovers

Rick Barnes was frustrated by constant turnovers
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associatd Press)

Felix and Ridley’s ten combined turnovers were just a fraction of the miscues that plagued Texas all night long. The Longhorns finished with 22 turnovers, wasting more than 32% of their possessions.

With those turnovers including numerous offensive fouls and a shot clock variation, there were less opportunities for Kentucky to turn those miscues into easy fast-break points that could whip Big Blue Nation into a frenzy. Still, Texas should be commended for their ability to get back quickly on the live-ball turnovers and limit the number of points they gave up as a result.

Even with the defense recovering and eliminating many of the fast-break opportunities, the Wildcats still scored 19 points off of the Texas mistakes. With the game separated by only two possessions in the final minutes, the Longhorns will certainly agonize over the ridiculous number of wasted opportunities and extra possessions that they gave Kentucky.

Perhaps most troubling is that these problems are nothing new for the Longhorns. Although the 32.8% turnover rate was easily the highest for the Horns so far this season, it was the fourth consecutive game in which Texas coughed it up on more than 20% of their possessions. With a very tough Big 12 conference slate just a few weeks away, the Longhorns have little time to correct an extremely troubling trend.

Up Next: vs. Texas State (4-1); Saturday, 7 P.M. CT (LHN)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:33AM

#6/7 Texas Longhorns 63, UT Arlington Mavericks 53

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns were able to grind out a victory on Tuesday night against UT Arlington. Texas was ice cold from the floor, made frustrating turnovers throughout the first half, and survived an early three-point barrage from their opponents en route to a 63-53 win.

Although the margin was much smaller than the experts had predicted, and even though the Mavs even pulled within three points midway through the second half, this game never felt in doubt. The Longhorns kept UTA at arm’s reach all night, finding ways to nurse their lead throughout the game.

Texas tied a school record for blocked shots
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

It was important for the Longhorns to be able to overcome adversity like they experienced on Tuesday night and still walk away with a win. However, that’s much easier to do against a team like UT Arlington than it would be against a rival in the loaded Big 12, or Friday night against Kentucky, the All-American factory. Bad shooting nights happen, but the Horns were lucky that this one came against a weaker opponent.

Even in a Texas win that can be best described as mediocre, we still found seven takeaways to share:

1. Texas wasn’t taking bad shots

If you’ve watched the Texas defense suffocate any opponents this season, you know that sometimes low shooting percentages are a result of your opponent making you take tough looks. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, as the Longhorns found space and time to fire up shots all game long. UTA was content to pack in their defense and put pressure on the bigs, and more than willing to let Texas try to beat them with jumpers. It was a gambit that paid off, as the Longhorns managed to shoot just 30% from the field, including a 5-of-27 line behind the arc.

The Longhorns did seem committed to working the shot clock and being patient in the second half. Often, open looks that may have been tried in the first half were passed up in favor of moving the ball a bit more and seeing what else might open up. Myles Turner also stepped up in the middle, creating trouble for UTA as he fought for space inside. Their defense was clearly overmatched, and the whistles piled up.

Of course, shooting percentage will be something to keep an eye on throughout the season. It’s one thing if you just have a bad shooting night and the open looks aren’t falling. It’s another, much more serious problem, if you just always miss your open looks. If the latter ends up being the case for Texas this year, the team will see opponents pack the lane for 40 minutes every night, and it will be very tough to score.

2. Miscues piled up early for the Horns

The Longhorns coughed it up nine times in the first half, ending more than 26% of their possessions with a turnover. That bug continued into the second half, with Texas giving it away on four more possessions before the under-16 media timeout. They tightened things up from there, not allowing another turnover for the final 16:27 of the game. On the night, the Longhorns finished with a turnover rate of 22%.

In a game where the team shot so poorly, it is impressive that they were also able to make so many mistakes and still win the game. However, this game was part of a troubling trend for Texas in regards to ball control, as it was the third straight outing in which the Longhorns posted a turnover rate north of 21%. That same lack of discipline could make things turn ugly very quickly in Lexington on Friday night. The return of Isaiah Taylor should help with this issue in time for conference play, but it could be a bumpy ride in the meantime.

3. Felix produced in limited minutes

With this being the middle game in a six-day, three-game stretch, it was important for the Longhorns to get some rest for their key players. Unfortunately, Texas’s inability to put UTA away made that very difficult, with Demarcus Holland and Jonathan Holmes playing a combined 67 minutes. Thanks to a solid outing from Kendal Yancy, though, Javan Felix was able to play just 20 minutes and rest his legs.

In that short appearance, Felix upped his production levels. Early in the game, he made two buckets in catch-and-shoot situations, rather than dominating the ball and firing off the bounce. On the night, he would only make one additional basket, underscoring the fact that Felix’s performance will undoubtedly improve when Taylor is back, and he is able to play off the ball. It should also be noted that it speaks to his reputation as a volume shooter that we’re praising his restraint after a 3-for-8 night.

In addition, Felix also logged an assist on one of the team’s few fast-break hoops, as he caught UTA napping in transition and simply pushed it all the way up the court and fed Ridley from the elbow for an easy dunk. It feels like we’ve said it after each of the last three games, but if Felix can focus on judiciously pushing the tempo and only firing in open, catch-and-shoot situations, he will do a much better job as the interim point guard.

4. Ridley is still struggling down low

In the first few minutes, the Longhorns made it a point to pound the rock down low, and Cameron Ridley made a quick, strong move with the ball that made it seem like his rough game at UConn was an aberration. As the game wore on, however, the big man once again struggled against double teams. Ridley often froze with the ball as the defensive pressure intensified, rather than quickly moving the ball and making UTA pay for their strategy.

Later in the game, Ridley was the recipient of some excellent interior passes, and he managed to use quick footwork and dunk with authority. Fans can only hope that those moves were a result of a discussion at halftime, and that the big man keeps that lesson in mind as he faces a tall, athletic defense on Friday night.

Ridley has managed just 17 minutes in each of his last two outings, but the Longhorns will need more than that from him moving forward. The only way he’ll stay on the floor, however, is to think quickly against interior pressure.

5. Turner carried the team to victory

One of those great feeds to Ridley came from fellow big man Myles Turner, who logged two assists on the night. Turner shot only 2-of-7 from the field, but frustrated the Mavericks all night, and helped the team grind out a win. His activity in the paint caused numerous defensive fouls away from the ball, and he also was in the mix on a few offensive fouls charged to UTA. Turner snagged 10 rebounds to earn his second career double-double, and led the team with five blocks on a night that the Longhorns tied a school record for swats.

With Turner drawing so many fouls and Texas spending most of the game in the bonus, the freshman had to cash in on his freebies at the line. He knocked down 14-of-17 free throws, part of the team’s 81.5% performance at the charity stripe. That puts Turner’s season free-throw average at 83.3%, further ensuring that he will be part of the frontcourt when games get down to crunch time.

Jordan Barnett had trouble finishing at the rim
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

6. Barnett still needs some seasoning

With Barnes trying to give his backcourt some rest, Jordan Barnett saw eight minutes of action, with most of that coming in the first half. He showed off a springy set of legs, and his length is ridiculous, but he was unable to finish inside. With that wingspan and those hops, Barnett will likely be a great rebounder and defender for Texas somewhere down the line, but his point-blank misses indicate that it may take quite some time for him to earn more minutes.

7. The big men stayed grounded

A major issue plaguing the Texas bigs this season has been a propensity for biting on shot fakes that either led to dumb fouls or scrambling by the rest of the defense. Last night, the Longhorns stayed on the floor, and they ended up tying a school record for blocks. At the final buzzer, Texas had posted a block percentage of 33.3%, by far the team’s best mark this season, and one that lifted their season-long block percentage to third-best in the country.

The defense’s discipline wasn’t solely limited to ignoring fakes, as they worked well as a unit, something that was exemplified by one broken play midway through the first half. When UTA bobbled the ball in the lane, the Longhorns reacted a little slowly as they tried to get to the loose ball, leaving them out of position once the Mavericks recovered. Yancy saw a UTA player drifting into space on the baseline, and slid down to cut off his angle.

That quick response gave Texas a few seconds to match back up, and Yancy then raced out to the perimeter to challenge another UTA player who had found space in the scramble. The Mavs took advantage of that late closeout, put the ball on the floor, and then found an open player just outside the lane. Holmes sprang into action to block the shot from behind, then patrolled the paint as UTA won back the missed shot. The big man was there to reject one more UTA attempt, forcing them into a shot-clock violation.

The Longhorns reacted quickly throughout that broken play to cover for each other and wipe away their mistakes. Although teams much better than UTA might have been able to take advantage of the little things that went wrong on that possession, the ability for the Longhorns to quickly recover as a unit, even with reserves on the floor, is something that will serve the defense well throughout the season.

Next up: at #1/1 Kentucky (7-0); Friday, 6 P.M. CT (ESPN)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:00AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns 55, #24/22 Connecticut Huskies 54

Late in Sunday’s game in Storrs, it looked like the Longhorns were letting a golden opportunity slip away. Texas had built a lead as large as seven points just before the under-16 media timeout in the second half, but could only manage a trio of free throws over the next seven minutes. UConn wrestled momentum from the Longhorns and seemed poised to grind out another victory at home.

Texas did not help its own cause as the minutes ticked away. Despite holding UConn to just one field goal in the final nine minutes of the game, the Longhorns continually found ways to turn the ball over and failed to secure crucial rebounds and loose balls, leading to a handful of free throws for the Huskies. Still, despite all of that, an unexpected free-throw miss by Ryan Boatright with 15 seconds on the clock left the door open for Texas.

The Longhorns brought the ball up the court and ran a dribble weave about 25 feet from the basket as the seconds disappeared. Coach Rick Barnes started signaling for a timeout on the sideline, and it was granted with 4.4 to play, just before Javan Felix could hoist a desperation three from well beyond the NBA arc. After Texas drew up a play and came out on the floor, UConn’s Kevin Ollie surveyed the setup and called his own timeout.

Jonathan Holmes watches his game-winning three
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

That set the stage for another round of Jonathan Holmes heroics. With the lanky Daniel Hamilton guarding Holmes, Demarcus Holland set a screen to free up the senior big man, while Myles Turner slipped through the mass of bodies and raced to the bucket. Holmes found himself alone in the corner, where Connor Lammert fed him for a wide-open look. UConn big man Amida Brimah had to leave Turner alone under the basket so he could challenge Holmes’ three, giving Texas an excellent opportunity to tip in a miss.

It didn’t matter. Holmes, who leaned forward as he let the shot fly, splashed the game-winner with two seconds left on the clock. With the capacity crowd at Gampel Pavilion stunned into silence, Javan Felix stole the ball from UConn on the final play, sealing an improbable finish and victory for Texas.

The win moves the Longhorns to 6-0 on the year, completing a perfect month of November. It was the team’s first spotless November and the program’s best start since the 2009-10 campaign, a season in which the Huskies were able to knock off Texas at Gampel.

With another massive test looming for these Longhorns on Friday against the Kentucky Wildcats and their nine All-Americans, here are eight notes on the exciting Texas win:

1. Who said Rick Barnes can’t draw up a play in the huddle?

The sideline OOB play set up the second career game-winner for Jonathan Holmes, providing a strikingly similar look to the one he drained against Kansas State in last year’s meeting at the Erwin Center. The play gave the Longhorns two solid options for a last-second shot, and left the team with an insurance play in Turner underneath the bucket.

While the Texas offense has frequently gone stagnant for long stretches during games over the years, and Barnes has also earned a reputation with fans and the media as being an offensively-challenged coach, he does have a knack for giving his team a chance to win in the final seconds. Whether it be the two game-winners from Holmes, a great play for Ioannis Papapetrou in a 2003 double-OT thriller against Iowa State, or incredible clock management to force OT at Tech in 2003, Barnes has repeatedly shown that he can create a good look for his players in crunch time.

2. The stifling Texas D had the perfect gameplan

The Huskies go as Boatright goes, and the Longhorns were well aware of that. Although Hamilton is undoubtedly a great scorer, the freshman has yet to prove that he can take over a game and carry his team to victory. Knowing that, the Longhorns made life very difficult for Boatright in the first twenty minutes, daring other UConn players to beat them.

The decision to put Felix on Boatright was one that raised quite a few eyebrows in the minutes leading up to tip-off, but it paid off. Felix was able to stick with the senior guard, challenge his shots, and the Texas bigs were able to stifle Boatright’s drives when he did get past the perimeter defense. That resulted in a 4-for-10 first-half line for Boatright, with a pair of those makes having a high degree of difficulty.

Although Boatright found it easier to score in the second half, and he was able to earn himself more trips to the stripe, the Longhorns still forced the rest of the Huskies into taking long jumpers. Sam Cassell, Jr. finished 2-for-11 from the field, including just 1-of-7 from long range.

That defense kept Texas in the game as the offense scuttled through the second half. As previously mentioned, the Horns allowed just one bucket over the final nine minutes of play, while UConn had to rely on free throws — three of those coming as Texas was forced to foul in the final thirty seconds — for their final five points.

In the end, Texas held the Huskies to 30.4% shooting on the afternoon, while allowing just 0.885 points per possession. The Horns still boast the nation’s fourth-best defense through six games, limiting opponents to an adjusted 0.868 PPP, according to Ken Pomeroy.

3. Texas must take the good with the bad from Felix

On a team with a healthy Isaiah Taylor, Felix would likely be a role player who could provide some quality defense, knock down a few shots, and dish a few dimes every night. Instead, he has been thrust back into a point guard role on a team that desperately needs a slashing guard with a good stroke.

Forced to be something he’s not, Felix has put Texas fans on a roller-coaster ride in the last three games. In the win over UConn, that meant that while Felix played solid D on Boatright early, canned an important three in a run at the end of the first half, and logged four assists, he also gave Longhorn fans numerous ulcers. Felix was only officially dinged for two turnovers on the afternoon, but that number did not include the handful of transition threes he clanked, or the shot clock violation charged to the team when he was on the court.

Felix finished 2-for-8 from behind the arc, and is now 31.5% from the field in his two games at the point, with an effective field goal percentage of 39.5%. In the three games where Felix was able to spend more time off the ball, he was 43.5% from the field and posted an eFG of 52.2%. Once Taylor returns, it stands to reason that Felix will again see his numbers improve. Until then, he needs to focus on being a facilitator and must value the ball and his team’s possessions.

UConn made things difficult inside for Texas
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

4. Texas will have to develop a midrange game

Although having Taylor back will certainly open up some things inside due solely to his ability to create off the bounce, the Longhorns will also need to utilize a midrange game to keep opponents honest. If not, they will see more of what UConn was able to do on Sunday afternoon, packing the lane to neutralize the Longhorn bigs and force the Horns to beat them from outside.

Both Holmes and Lammert have the ability to knock down triples, along with midrange jumpers from the elbow or baseline. Turner has also shown range all over the court, so he would be a viable option in those same areas. If opponents are going to double Texas bigs on the catch, the Horns will need to be able to put those three in a position to float out of the paint and make opponents pay.

In addition to the versatile Texas frontcourt, the Longhorn guards also must be willing to take and able to make the midrange jumper when it presents itself. ESPN’s Kara Lawson rightly called out Holland for shying away from a midrange J late in the game, and until he or Felix start taking and making those shots, opponents will be able to sell out in an effort to limit the major advantage Texas owns down low.

5. Holland continues to emerge in Taylor’s absence

Despite passing up the midrange opportunities, Holland once again stepped up with Taylor out of the lineup. In addition to his well-advertised defensive skills, Holland has been on the lookout for driving opportunities since the team’s point guard went down, and his aggressive plays gave Texas early, easy buckets against UConn. The junior guard repeatedly made it to the rack as he scored 10 first-half points on 5-of-6 shooting, but he was shut out the rest of the way.

On the other end of the floor, Holland was tasked with guarding the indefatigable Boatright late in the game. Although Felix performed admirably against UConn’s best player, it was Holland who prevented Boatright and the Huskies from scoring a field goal in the game’s final minutes, keeping it within reach for Texas. And, of course, it should also be noted that it was Holland who set the key screen to free up Holmes for the game winner.

While Holland’s emergence has been key for Texas over the last nine days, the Horns will be a much more complete team if he continues to attack when the opportunities present themselves, even after the return of Taylor. As previously mentioned, increased confidence in Holland’s midrange game would be another helpful development, but even just having him continue his output when Taylor returns would be a boon for the Horns.

Myles Turner made key plays in the final minutes
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

6. Turner came up big in crunch time

It was a tough afternoon for the Texas bigs, as Cameron Ridley was limited to an ineffective 17 minutes and Turner struggled offensively against UConn’s suffocating interior D. None of that mattered when the pressure was on, though, as the freshman blocked three shots, secured two key defensive rebounds, and calmly sank two clutch free throws, all in the final three minutes.

7. Yancy is showing flashes, but still needs some seasoning

With Taylor out and Felix missing Tuesday’s win over St. Francis, Yancy has seen a sudden upswing in his minutes. The sophomore guard has applied good defensive pressure on the perimeter and shown great burst in getting to the rack, but has still played erratically enough to make his time on the court an adventure.

Against UConn, Yancy was tagged with three turnovers, none of them more costly than the offensive foul for which he was whistled with 13:27 to go. The Longhorns led by four at that point, but Yancy swung his elbows to clear space on the wing, making some contact with Boatright’s chin. By letter of the law, that resulted in a Flagrant 1, giving UConn two free throws and the ball. Although the Huskies could only capitalize on the free throws and not the extra possession, the mistake effectively killed the momentum for Texas and gave UConn enough life to slowly build a lead down the stretch.

Yancy’s other turnovers were a result of getting a little too deep with the bounce against a set defense, something he needs to improve if he wants to maintain a key role. If he can learn to rein in that explosive speed with the ball, he can limit his turnovers in the future, while still providing some nifty slashes to the rack. If Yancy can’t find a way to do that this year, his role will significantly diminish once Taylor is available.

8. The Horns were outhustled to loose balls

For the first time this season, the Longhorns were outrebounded, as the Huskies snagged 36 boards to just 35 for Texas. Many of those rebounds were painfully frustrating offensive boards that UConn won back, simply beating the Longhorns to the long caroms. The Horns repeatedly saw their defensive stops wiped out by those offensive boards, which led to 11 crucial second-chance points.

Texas had a distinct size advantage inside, but was still often beaten by Kentan Facey and his nose for rebounds. On the long boards, which Texas typically hustled to win in their first five games, UConn was simply quicker to react.

The Longhorns are going to force opponents into a lot of bad misses this season, but if they cannot close out those possessions with strong rebounding, it is going to lead to some back-breaking second chances. They will be especially harmful in low-possession games such as this one at UConn, where those extra looks almost cost Texas the game.

Up next: vs. UT-Arlington (3-3); Tuesday, 7 P.M. CT (LHN)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:28AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns 78, St. Francis Red Flash 46

Myles Turner made a quick splash when he debuted for the Texas Longhorns on November 14th. Within 30 seconds of entering the game, he made his first collegiate bucket, and scored in a variety of ways en route to a 15-point night. He added another 10 just a few days later against Alcorn State, but managed to score only five points in each game against Cal and Iowa in New York City.

St. Francis could not stop freshman phenom Myles Turner
(Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman)

Although he was still active defensively and on the glass in those two games, it looked like Turner was out of his usual zone on the offensive end. That changed in a big way in last night’s 78-46 win over St. Francis, as Turner dropped 25 points and tied a 52-year-old school record for field-goal percentage (91.7%) in a single game.

The win, which was never in doubt, moved the Longhorns to 5-0 on the season ahead of their Top 25 showdown with UConn in Storrs on Sunday. Although it’s always hard to glean too much insight from early-season games as mismatched as this one was, we still have seven post-game thoughts to share:

1. The Texas trainers are staying busy

With Isaiah Taylor already in a sling on the bench, the Longhorns had a few more injuries wreak havoc on the rotation last night. Javan Felix did not play — although Texas said he was available, if necessary — as he nursed a sore foot that he played through in New York City.

Prince Ibeh also joined the triage unit after just two minutes on the floor, when he appeared to injure himself while blocking a shot. He grabbed at his hip and shuffled slowly down the court the other way before Texas reclaimed the ball and play was ultimately stopped. Ibeh headed to the locker room during the first half and did return to the bench, but did not see any additional action.

Taylor’s injury will keep him out of action indefinitely, although some reports have predicted he’ll miss four to six weeks. Felix is expected to be back in action on Sunday against UConn, while there are no reports yet on Ibeh’s condition. This is certainly a Texas team with enough depth to absorb that many injuries, and the schedule worked out nicely for Felix to be able to rest up before a much more important game this weekend.

2. The Longhorns fell into the letdown trap early

After a few nice possessions with Demarcus Holland running the point, the Longhorns quickly lost focus in the first half. It was easy to see why, but no less frustrating. Sandwiched between games against Iowa and Cal in New York and big road games against UConn and Kentucky, a mid-week game just before the holidays against a tiny St. Francis team was the type that the Longhorns knew they could easily win.

Unfortunately, they played with that mindset for a lengthy first-half stretch. The Longhorns did not protect the basketball, and an active, hungry St. Francis defense repeatedly made them pay. In the first half, Texas coughed it up on nearly 22% of their possessions, with many of the turnovers coming when the Longhorns didn’t make strong passes or held the ball down low where the quick hands of the Red Flash could swipe at it.

Although Cameron Ridley scored 13 first-half points thanks to his epic mismatch against the St. Francis “bigs,” he was tagged with two early turnovers and finished with four on the night. Ridley had no problem when he caught the ball down low, but looked completely out of sorts handling it anywhere else.

3. Holmes found additional ways to contribute

It was a rough night for Jonathan Holmes from the floor, which started when he had a nice take from the perimeter that ultimately resulted in a shot that rimmed out. The senior finished just 1-of-5 from the field, with the lone make coming on a three. He also was not immune to the turnover problems that plagued Ridley and the team, as he was charged with three of his own in the first half.

However, Holmes logged five assists on the night, with most of them coming early. Thanks to his outside shot, he was able to spread a St. Francis defense that would much rather pack the lane. Holmes repeatedly put the ball right on the money when feeding from the perimeter, setting Ridley up in perfect position down low for an easy bucket. With a Texas team that has quite a few offensive threats, it’s reassuring to see Holmes helping out those other scorers on a night when his shot wasn’t falling.

4. Turner took over the game

As mentioned earlier, Turner tied a team record that dated back to the 1950’s, making 11-of-12 from the field. He scored in a variety of ways, from utilizing the face up game just outside the lane to showing soft touch on a baby hook. Turner also made all three long-range attempts he took, and later used that three-point threat on an impressive play in which the freshman faked the defender from the arc, took one dribble, and drilled a 19-footer before his man could recover.

Turner finished the night with his first collegiate double-double, adding 10 boards to go with his 25-point performance. Even better, he managed to post that line in just 25 minutes of action, giving him an offensive rating of 211 for the night. Sources tell us that’s pretty good.

5. Holland and Yancy held it down

With Felix out of action, Holland was asked to add point-guard duties to his usual defensive-stopper role. The junior guard handled it well, logging four assists while keeping the offense focused on exploiting the team’s size advantage during his 32 minutes of action. As usual, Holland stayed in the shirt of his man on the defensive end, and also added a pair of nice layups on quick, aggressive moves to the basket.

Thanks to the Felix injury, Kendal Yancy made his first start of the season after notching 10 last year. In the second half, he made the most of the opportunity, making confident moves with the ball en route to a 12-point night. Yancy knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc, and utilized that three-point threat in making St. Francis pay for late, quick closeouts. He also performed well on the defensive end, making the combination of Holland and Yancy look like a nice future option against quick backcourts.

6. The Horns still hustled in a blowout

The Longhorns fought St. Francis for every loose ball
(Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman)

Although Texas had some ball control issues that indicated a lack of focus, there were still quite a few nice hustle plays for the Longhorns last night. As usual, Connor Lammert repeatedly made the extra effort to track down errant bounces, and his work cleaning up misses inside helped him to an 11-point performance. Holland also found extra bursts of speed to beat St. Francis to a few long rebounds that had bounced into space.

The most impressive hustle play of the night, however, belonged to Ridley. Late in the first half, he found himself isolated against St. Francis star Earl Brown in the midrange. The big man took a good stance and used his length to back Brown up, then sprung off the floor to block Brown’s stepback attempt. Ridley then showed off the nimble footwork of a ballerina, snatching the ball out of the air, while planting one foot just inside the basline, and then swiveling to save the ball back to Turner.

Even though Texas had some lapses in concentration during the first half, the strong effort throughout the game to win extra possessions was a welcome sight. Those possessions obviously didn’t matter in a blowout win against St. Francis, but they could be the difference in a tight game against tougher compeition later in the year.

7. Texas posted some impressive numbers

While the stats in a game like this are not indicative of much in the grand scheme of things, they are still a lot of fun to look at. The Longhorns once again dominated on the defensive end, holding the Red Flash to 31% shooting and just 0.726 points per possession. It was the third time this season that the Horns have held an opponent to less than 0.8 PPP, and it pulled the team’s adjusted defensive efficiency mark down to 0.877 PPP, currently the fourth-best in the nation.

The Longhorns also managed to do that without fouling, as they played nearly 18 minutes before being whistled for their first foul. On the night, Texas only gave St. Francis five trips to the line, resulting in an incredible free-throw rate of just 8.6%. In simpler terms, that means that the Longhorns gave the Red Flash less than one free throw for every 11 shots attempted.

Texas also owned the glass on both ends of the court, which was to be expected against a team that topped out at 6’7″. The Longhorns reclaimed 44% of their own missed shots, and turned that into 15 second-chance points. On the other end, Texas limited St. Francis to winning just 17.9% of their offensive-rebounding opportunities.

Up next: at Connecticut (3-1); Sunday, 11 A.M. CT (ESPN2)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:45PM

#10/10 Texas Longhorns 71, Cal Golden Bears 55

The Texas Longhorns received a dose of bad news on Friday afternoon, just hours before taking the court against Cal in the 2K Classic title game. Point guard Isaiah Taylor, a preseason member of the Wooden Award watch list, took a hard fall late in the win over Iowa a night prior, and X-rays indicated he had broken a bone in his wrist. The injury is expected to keep him out of action for 4-6 weeks.

If there were ever a year for a Texas team to absorb an injury to one of its stars, this year would be it. In addition to having a massive frontcourt, the Longhorns have their deepest bench in ages. With Taylor out, Javan Felix was available to slide back into the starting point guard slot, a role he was also suddenly thrust into as a freshman, when Myck Kabongo missed 23 games for lying to NCAA investigators about impermissible benefits.

UT won its first November tournament since 2009
(Photo credit: Shelby Tauber/Associated Press)

While there is a distinct difference in style between Taylor and Felix, the absence of the team’s starting point guard wasn’t enough to cause problems against Cal. The Longhorns jumped out to a 14-4 lead by the first media timeout, and their stingy defense preserved a comfortable lead all night. Although the Golden Bears were able to carve the lead to six points on a few occasions, Texas enjoyed a double-digit lead for more than 25 minutes of game time.

The win gave Texas its first championship at the 2K Classic tournament, where they had previously lost in the 2010 title game to Pitt. It also gave the team its second neutral-court win over a major-conference opponent, something that will come in handy as the NCAA Selection Committee debates seeds in March.

With the Longhorns now sitting at 4-0 and looking ahead to a tough road contest against UConn next weekend, here are five takeaways from last night’s win:

1. This could be the best Texas D of the Barnes era

We’re only four games into the season, and there are still more than 30 to play, but the early numbers for this year’s defense are staggering. The Longhorns have allowed an adjusted 0.878 points per possession, the nation’s fifth-best mark, while they have allowed a raw 0.796 points per possession.

Texas is shutting down opponents without forcing turnovers — their turnover percentage is actually the 35th-lowest in the country — and is instead relying on suffocating interior defense and the clean-up abilities of their stable of shot blockers. The Longhorns have a block percentage of 17.1%, 34th-best in Division I, and they added 10 swats to their season tally last night.

The best team of the Rick Barnes era in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency was the 2011 team, which allowed an adjusted 0.907 points per possession. While Barnes’ teams always pride themselves on defense, the next-best performance by a Texas squad was 0.933 adjusted PPP in 2009, which gives you an idea of just how special that 2011 defense was. That team started Big 12 play 11-0, with all but one of those wins coming by double digits, and reached the No. 3 ranking in both major polls before finally losing a conference game.

There’s still a long way to go, but this defense has the right pieces to put together another historic run. Demarcus Holland provides smothering defense on the perimeter, and is usually able to frustrate the opponent’s best guard or wing. Inside, the shot-blocking talents of the deep Texas frontcourt are there to help clean up any penetration that gets by the Longhorn guards. Add in a strong set of rebounders that have limited opponents to just 28.3% of their offensive rebounding chances so far, and Texas opponents will find it tough to score all season long.

Jonathan Holmes was named tournament MVP
(Photo credit: Shelby Tauber/Associated Press)

2. Jonathan Holmes is no longer under the radar

A night after powering the Longhorn comeback against Iowa, it was again Holmes who carried the team to victory. The team’s lone senior posted his first double-double of the season, a 21-point, 13-rebound performance. With the Cal zone causing some problems for the Texas offense, it was also Holmes who stepped into that key role in the high post, where he delivered one of the game’s biggest highlights, a great feed to Prince Ibeh on the baseline, which led to a thunderous dunk.

Holmes was unsurprisingly named the tournament MVP, after scoring 40 points and snagging 18 boards in 63 minutes on the court. He also hustled for a pair of nice blocks in the win over Cal, and logged three assists. Although Big 12 opponents are already familiar with Holmes, he is not as well known nationally, having been left off the Wooden Award watch list in favor of Taylor and Myles Turner. After his performance the last two nights, it’s clear that the national media is taking notice.

3. Javan Felix had a mixed return at the point

Although Taylor brings a scoring threat that Felix simply cannot match, the New Orleans native has enough previous experience running the point at Texas that fans didn’t need to be overly concerned. Felix validated that confidence in the game’s opening minutes, guiding the offense as they worked to feed the post and elbow, and even adding in a jumper and a three-pointer of his own.

As the game wore on, Felix seemed to shift out of his role as facilitator and floor general, and revert to more of the shooting guard role that he primarily served in last season. Coach Barnes was repeatedly quoted as telling Felix to take the open shots last year, and in last night’s win, he took a few wide open shots early in the shot clock.

With the definitive size advantage that Texas enjoyed against Cal, it would have been better for Felix to exercise some patience and look for post options before firing up early shots from outside. In addition to leading to higher-percentage looks, taking some time on the offensive end would have also taken Cal out of the up-tempo game that it prefers to play.

Taylor is expected to miss four to six weeks due to his injury, bringing him back just in time for conference play. In the meantime, Felix will be running the point in road games against UConn and Kentucky, and a home date with Stanford. While Texas can get by on pure talent against the rest of its non-conference slate, the Longhorns will need him to embrace the facilitator role against those three tough opponents.

Demarcus Holland starred on both ends of the floor
(Photo credit: Frank Franklin/Associated Press)

4. Demarcus Holland stepped up

With Taylor out of the game, the Longhorns were missing quite a bit of scoring that usually comes from their point guard. Primarily a defensive specialist, Holland took advantage of the opportunity to shine, putting the ball on the floor and earning multiple trips to the line. Demarcus made all seven of his free throws and had quite a few nice cuts to the bucket, finishing with 11 points and an impressive block of a Cal three-pointer. Although Felix will still be needed to shoulder the point guard duties with Taylor sidelined, Holland’s increased offensive output could not have come at a better time.

5. The rotation is already tightening up

With Taylor out due to injury, it would stand to reason that the guys languishing near the bottom of the backcourt rotation would naturally see more minutes. That wasn’t the case for Damarcus Croaker, who didn’t see action for a second straight game. Wingman Jordan Barnett, whose size matched up a little better with the Cal guards and wings, also didn’t see the court.

While Barnett’s lack of PT may have been the result of some shaky minutes against Iowa, Croaker didn’t do anything egregious enough to remember in the team’s first two blowouts. Even though we’re just four games into the season, we may already be seeing that Coach Barnes doesn’t see much room for Croaker in a very crowded Texas backcourt.

Ibeh also saw a decreased role in the two games at Madison Square Garden, playing just 20 total minutes in the two contests. The big man missed some point-blank shots against Iowa, and also limited his effectiveness with poor post defense that led to unnecessary fouls.

While Turner has yet to repeat his breakout performance from his collegiate debut, he is bound to find a rhythm at this level and earn even more minutes than the 18.8 he’s currently averaging. Unless Ibeh can consistently provide an intimidating presence as a rim protector, it looks like he may find himself in a very limited role moving forward.

Up Next: vs. St. Francis (2-2); Tuesday, 7 P.M. (Longhorn Network)

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