United Spirit Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List)/ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #251
The worst regular season for the Texas basketball program in nearly two decades comes to its quiet end on the South Plains this afternoon as the Longhorns take on Texas Tech. This year, Texas suffered its worst start in conference play since the 1970′s, posted its first losing record in conference since Tom Penders’ final season in 1997-98, and will need a miracle run at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City to avoid missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.
With no hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, Texas is playing only for seeding in the Big 12 Championship. If West Virginia loses at home to Iowa State this afternoon, the Longhorns can lock up a No. 7 seed in the conference tournament with a win over Texas Tech. That would set up a game against TCU on Wednesday in Kansas City, with the winner advancing to face the No. 2 seed, which will be Kansas or Kansas State. If the Mountaineers defeat Iowa State this afternoon, the Longhorns will be playing for nothing but pride when they tip off in Lubbock.
Meet the Red Raiders
For an in-depth look at the Texas Tech roster and the team’s tendencies, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.
The first match-up
The Longhorns entered their first game against Texas Tech with an 0-5 Big 12 record and in desperate need of a win. The opening minutes of the game did little to calm the fears of Longhorn fans, as the team scored just 10 points in the first eight minutes, while point guard Javan Felix picked up two fouls.
With Felix on the bench, Ioannis Papapetrou took over primary ballhandling duties and Demarcus Holland stepped up. Texas closed out the half with a 25-14 push, building a lead as large as 13 late in the first half. Holland played 17 of the first 20 minutes, scoring nine points with aggressive drives and a triple. His three steals also flustered Josh Gray (No. 5) and the Tech offense, which coughed it up nine other times in the first half.
In the second, Texas extended its lead to as many as 16 points in the first few minutes. Tech refused to fold, however, slicing the lead to only eight points with just under eight minutes to play. After wasting late leads against USC, UCLA, Kansas, and West Virginia, it looked like the Horns might once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead, Papapetrou fueled a late-game surge, hitting a trey before assisting on three straight buckets. The Longhorns outscored Tech 17-6 over the next five minutes and cruised to a 73-57 win, their first victory in Big 12 play.
Sophomore guard Julien Lewis led Texas with 18 points, despite having a rough 2-for-7 performance behind the arc. The Longhorns also received a strong effort from freshman Cameron Ridley, who chipped in six points and ripped down ten rebounds. Texas made it a point to get their big man the ball, and it led not only to points in the paint, but opportunities for other Horns.
The loss to Texas was the first in a nine-game skid for the Red Raiders, who finally broke out of the funk last Saturday with a home victory over TCU. Porous defense was the culprit in all of the losses, with the Red Raiders allowing 1.18 points per possession during the losing streak. Their best defensive effort came in a narrow road loss to West Virginia, where they still allowed the anemic Mountaineer offense to put in 1.015 points per possession.
Big man Dejan Kravic (No. 11) has continued to be inconsistent for Coach Walker, performing admirably in early February losses to West Virginia and Kansas State before going into a terrible slump. In Monday’s loss at Kansas, Kravic hit his absolute low, posting an offensive rating of five.
To put that performance into perspective, we can compare it to the day that Northern Illinois tied an NCAA record with four points in one half and went on to score 25 total. The Huskies had only one player who posted a single-digit offensive rating, and that was bench man Akeem Springs, who somehow managed an ORtg of just one.
It’s clear that Texas Tech is much better when Kravic is able to use his throwback game to earn points in the paint. Unfortunately, he has had little success doing that in conference play. If he continues to struggle this afternoon, the Red Raiders will likely find it tough to close out their season on a positive note.
At the point, freshman Gray has put up some solid performances down the stretch, but he is still struggling with decision making. His speed is very tough to defend and he can get to the rim with ease, but his lack of a consistent outside shot allows opponents to sag off. When opponents hunker down and take away his driving ability, Gray will often make a questionable pass inside that results in a turnover.
Even with those weaknesses, Gray scored 46 total points in back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State. He also dished out six dimes against TCU, with many of those coming after he had sliced up the Horn Frogs off the bounce. The freshman clearly has a bright future in the Big 12, but needs to make better passing decisions from the perimeter and he will have to work on finishing at the rim and developing an outside shot over the summer.
Keys to the game
1) Come out with intensity – United Spirit Arena was once a dangerous road trip in the Big 12, as Kansas repeatedly found out in the late 2000′s. Unfortunately, numerous coaching changes and abysmal seasons have killed the crowd support and turned the arena into an empty cavern. That provides little energy for games, and it can make it difficult for visiting teams to show up to play. Kansas and Kansas State both struggled to put Tech away until late in their visits to Lubbock this season, while Iowa State actually fell victim to the Red Raiders in mid-January.
With the Longhorns having very little to play for, they will have to manufacture their own energy this afternoon. Although the team could be playing for a No. 7 seed in the Big 12 Championship, that doesn’t provide too much motivation. If they come out flat like they have on numerous occasions this season, the Horns will certainly let Tech hang around and be in a position to pull off an upset.
2) Force mistakes – In the first meeting, Texas forced Tech into 19 turnovers and converted that into 22 points. That was no anomaly, as the Red Raiders have struggled controlling the ball all year. Their turnover rate of 21.3% is one of the 100 worst marks in D-I hoops, and they actually have coughed it up slightly more against Big 12 opponents, with 21.5% of their possessions ending in a miscue.
With Holland now in the starting five, the Longhorns will get even more minutes out of a guy who gave the Red Raiders fits in the first game. If they can get a repeat performance from him and force Tech to waste their possessions, the Horns should be able to finish the regular season with a win.
3) Clean up defensive glass – Even though Texas won the first game comfortably, their effort on the defensive glass left a lot to be desired. The Horns allowed Tech to reclaim 48.6% of their missed shots, and the Red Raiders turned all of those second chances into 17 extra points. The Longhorns had particular trouble with Jordan Tolbert (No. 32), who grabbed 13 boards on the night, with eight of those coming on the offensive end. If the Longhorns allow that many offensive rebounds in this game, a Tech offense that typically struggles to score will suddenly become much more dangerous.