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January 13, 2014

Longhorns get much-needed win at West Virginia...

After dropping a game at home against Oklahoma it needed to win, Texas (13-4, 2-2) needed to steal one on the road against a quality opponent in conference play. It failed to do that, and failed to look like the Texas team that impressed in non-conference play, at Oklahoma State. But against West Virginia (10-7, 2-2) the Longhorns played their best Big 12 basketball and didn't just steal one. They left with an emphatic 80-69 win over a favored West Virginia team.

1) The final 10 minutes or so of the first half was the best stretch of basketball by far that the Longhorns have played in conference play. For the first time, everything clicked against a conference foe and it showed because Texas finished the half by outscoring WVU 27-11 after Texas trailed 16-14.

If Texas could do this consistently, it could compete with anyone.

2) West Virginia entered the game as one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country (27th nationally) and Texas entered the game with a poor rating against the triple (247th nationally). Well, the script was flipped by the Longhorns. Not only did they play a lot of zone, but they played it well for a large chunk of the game, which led to WVU shooting 4-of-25 from beyond the arc. And it didn't get many open looks from deep, so while it struggled some to shoot, this was more about Texas' defense than anything.

Texas communicated, rotated, and smartly challenged/closed out on shooters.



3) Cameron Ridley picked up an offensive foul on the first possession, and it looked like another "here we go again" moments for Texas. However, Ridley smartly with the foul, was able to stay in the game, and finished with only two fouls. He also played a very impactful 29 minutes with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 12 rebounds, and two blocks.

4) Speaking of fouls, Connor Lammert (three) was the only big man with more than two, and West Virginia attempted just 20 free throws. Texas made some money at the line tonight with an 18-of-23 effort, and seven different players made free throws.

5) Martez Walker is really figuring it out. You can see the game slowing down for him as he plays more aggressively on defense, is taking good shots, and is moving the basketball well offensively. I actually felt like the ball movement was at its best tonight when Walker was in the game.

The lefty scored 10 points (2-of-4 shooting; 2-of-2 from deep) grabbed three rebounds, secured two steals, and had a block in 19 minutes.

6) If the Big 12 put together a Royal Rumble and every Big 12 basketball player participated, I think Jonathan Holmes would win. He gets the rebounds he goes after at a high rate; he comes out of piles with loose balls; he's tough in the pain; and when he's not in foul trouble, he's very effective. After racking up a combined six fouls in the first half of games this season, Holmes committed just one foul all game while remaining as aggressive as normal.

7) The 18 turnovers (13 in the second half) are going to bug Rick Barnes, and rightfully so. West Virginia had some success late at throwing a 1-3-1 half-court trap look at Texas. It took a while for the Longhorns to figure this out, and once they did, they got some good looks.

I actually saw Rick Barnes emphatically clap a couple times and happily sit down after Texas broke the trap, took the clock down to 10 seconds, and got a great, wide open shot.

8) Texas was plus-19 on the glass tonight, and was dominant on the offensive glass before WVU cut that advantage down late in the game. The guards came down and helped rebound well - Isaiah Taylor had eight - and the duo of Lammert and Prince Ibeh combined for 11 in 31 very solid minutes.

By the way, Ridley, Holmes, and Taylor combined for 32 rebounds, which was more than the entire West Virginia team.

9) I think Texas may have found something against the zone tonight. Taylor had a lot of success at the wing/corner spot attacking via the cut or off the dribble down the baseline area, and Texas got a few wide open dunks to big men and open jumpers from the baseline when it remained patient and moved without the basketball.

Also, the Longhorns went through a scare when Taylor got crossed over badly and appeared to pull a hamstring. However, he returned and after running gingerly for a little bit, ran very well and finished the game with 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and just two turnovers in 33 minutes.

Texas got a great shooting night from Felix, who led the team with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The sophomore made layups at the rim in transition, knocked down deep jumpers, created in the mid-range game, and played with great confidence.

10) This was a huge win for the Longhorns, and it says a lot about the character of this team when you consider the quick turnaround and the sluggish play during the first three games. Texas will take a lot of confidence away from this, as it should, and it shows that this team can make significant improvement game-to-game. It looked like Texas was driving in a circle and hitting a wall each game in Big 12 game, but not this one. This wasn't 40 minutes of its best basketball, but it was a very impressive effort on the road.


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