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December 19, 2012

Horns stun North Carolina

All season, Texas head coach Rick Barnes has maintained that his basketball team can be a good one, and that what he sees each day in practice isn't what is shown on the floor often come game-time. Wednesday night, the Longhorns (7-4) showed what their coach has been constantly referring to as they convincingly defeated No. 23 North Carolina (8-3) 85-67. While it probably surprised a lot of people watching, it didn't surprise Texas' head coach, who has never backed down from stating what his team is capable of.

Barnes knew heading into this game it was going to be one with a high score, but his team played like he's been trying to get it to this year.

"If you go back and look and even when he (Roy Williams) was at Kansas, they've been in high scoring games because they run," Barnes said. "We've been trying to get our guys to do that. We have to play that way. That's how they play, so I just look at our guys and I think they came out and in some ways they played the way we've practiced from day one, not over the last month and a half, but the way we started this summer… the little things, just getting their space on the floor. I thought Cam (Ridley) did that tonight better than any time. He got deep as opposed to just settling. Little things like that. We really did a good job early using screens and attacking that high percentage area. Those things."

It was clear from beginning that this Longhorn team was more confident and more aggressive than North Carolina while also being more decisive on the offensive end of the floor than normal. Texas jumped out to an 11-2 lead right away by forcing turnovers, grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds, and by knocking down good looks from the floor on offense. The confidence the Horns gained from that fast start carried over.

"They looked more decisive than we've been," stated Barnes when asked about the team's offense and quick start. "The last game I was seeing more of that. I told them all year that we would average a bunch of points if we stopped turning it over. Even in the first half, we took some shots that were not great shots but I'd rather it be that way right now because we can get that cleaned up. It was really a great win for us."

Meanwhile on the other side of the floor, North Carolina coach Roy Williams noticed an aggressive Longhorn team.

"It was an ugly night for us to say the least," Williams said. "They were aggressive. They were more attentive to everything. They were quicker to every loose ball. First half we talked about how we have to be aggressive, keeping them off the boards, and being quicker to the ball. The first shot goes in and everything started to look a lot better. We also had players with four turnovers in the first eleven or twelve minutes of the game. I thought (Javan) Felix did a great job of controlling the ball for Texas. They out ran us. We like to say that we are a running team but Texas did a better job tonight of pushing the pace, and getting us back on our heels. In the game they were more aggressive than we were. It seemed like every loose ball. One time we even had two guys get a rebound yet step out of bounds. It was a bad night for us. Congrats to Texas and Rick Barnes, they were more aggressive, more attentive, and more physical tonight."

Sometimes, the stats can tell the story, and Texas had more points in the paint, more points off turnovers, more second-chance points, more fast break points, and more bench points. It was probably the Longhorns' most collective effort of the season, and even though they shot just 40.5 percent from the floor, they got quality contributions in some way from everyone that played.

"It was a great team win," Texas' head coach said after the game. "I'm happy for these guys because tonight they started seeing some of the things we had talked about. We were aggressive, we ran, we got on the glass with Jonathan Holmes early. It was a great win for the team because we had certain plays here and there. Demarcus Holland came in and ran and got an easy one for us. (Ioannis Papapetrou) Papi came in because they decided to go small, so we went small, and he comes up with 10 rebounds. We haven't faced that defensive pressure all year. It's the hardest pressure we've face. We turned it over 13 times. We hadn't seen that all year. I'm proud of our guys for that."

Down the stretch, Texas fans may have started to have flashbacks to the collapse in the final three minutes against UCLA. North Carolina inched closer down the stretch, started to bring the full-court pressure, and even forced Javan Felix into an ugly turnover early. However, the Longhorns didn't get rattled, and instead of encountering a case of deja vu, they pulled away.

"None of my teammates panicked at all," said Felix about the final stretch of the game. "We knew we were going to win the game and we just stayed confident in what we were doing and what we had to do. We executed down the stretch to get the win."

And while the NCAA will reportedly suspend sophomore Myck Kabongo for the season, the young Longhorns will still take confidence away from by far the biggest victory of the season, and it was one that was definitely much-needed.

"I think it's pretty big for us," stated Jon Holmes afterwards. "We've had a couple of tough losses because we weren't playing as hard as we should have, but tonight we came out, played harder than them, and did what we expected to do. It definitely set the bar higher for us."

As for the Kabongo situation, Barnes would only offer this after the game:

"I talked about it on the Longhorn Network (before meeting with the media) that there is a process that every athlete goes through and I can only tell you that process is not done," Barnes said. "They're in the middle of that process, and when it's done, we'll go from there. I can't say it any better than I just said it. Every student athlete is entitled to a process if something comes up... that process is ongoing."

The ongoing process that Barnes has to be more concerned about is the one involving the development of his basketball team. Fortunately for Texas, it took a big step in the right direction Wednesday night. Now, Barnes will have to try to get his players to sustain that level of play.


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