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January 25, 2014

Longhorns continue winning ways, pound No. 24 Baylor

Texas (16-4, 5-2) traveled by bus up I-35 to Waco to face No. 24 Baylor (13-6, 1-5)… and it turned out that it was traveling in the "beat 'em down" bus.

The Bears lost three-straight heading into the contest, and desperately needed a win. Meanwhile, the Longhorns entered the contest having won four-straight and were looking to make another statement. The team that has been winning kept on winning as Texas hammered Baylor 74-60, which means the Longhorns have beaten three-straight AP top-25 teams for the first time in school history.

1) From the opening tip the Longhorns were the more focused, better prepared, tougher, and had more energy than Baylor, which is surprising not because Texas doesn't normally do those things but because Baylor was lifeless at home in a game it really, really needed to win.

Credit Rick Barnes for having his guys ready, and also credit the Texas players for taking it to Baylor in the effort and toughness department.

There was a point early in the game when Jonathan Holmes got the ball at the high-post against the zone, made a move to the rim aggressively, and was fouled hard by Rico Gathers. Gathers is a huge guy that looks like a NFL player, and he stood there after the foul like Holmes was supposed to be intimidated or bothered by it. Holmes wasn't and eventually, Holmes and the Texas big men were coming down with a vast majority of all the tough rebounds down the stretch and made Baylor look weak.



2) Isaiah Taylor had the floater-game working today, and his aggressiveness and quickness led to him scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting with nine of those buckets coming in the paint. Baylor simply had no answer for Taylor with a zone defense or man-to-man because he carved up the Bears off the dribble any time he found a gap. Taylor also did a great job of controlling pace and really pushing the ball in transition when he got a chance.

Also, credit the Longhorns around the perimeter for moving the ball well, and also for making it a point to work the ball into the high-post or down low to a big like Cameron Ridley. It wasn't perfect, but the execution against the zone, especially when you consider Javan Felix shot just 2-of-8 and the Longhorns made just 2-of-11 three-pointers, was improved.

3) You know Barnes and his staff had to enjoy the hell out of that, and here they are 5-2 in the toughest conference in America with a short break before a massive home game against Kansas next Saturday.

4) It wasn't until 1:36 remaining in the game that Baylor made a field goal on back-to-back possessions. Baylor entered the contest as the No. 29 efficiency offense in the country, and the Longhorns held them to 32.1 percent shooting. The communication on defense and the defensive rotations were very good, and the players around the perimeter did a good job at keeping the ball in front of them, which has been a problem in the past.

Texas did struggle with the fouling early in the game, but did a much better job of that in the second half when it really pulled away after being up just four at the intermission. Specifically, Taylor maybe played his best defensive game as he really got into the guard he was defending by using his feet, and Holland was again disruptive.

5) When Texas doesn't turn it over, good things happen. Duh, I know. The Longhorns dished out 16 assists (Felix with five, Holmes with four, Taylor with three) and committed just nine turnovers (four of those by Demarcus Holland, including one questionable travel call). Meanwhile, Baylor committed 13 turnovers and had just 11 assists.

6) Any time Baylor was about to grab some momentum late, Barnes usually called a timely timeout. Credit him for managing those well and also for switching up the defense - Texas kept Baylor off-balanced with some zone throughout the game - to get results.

7) It wasn't Ridley's most efficient game, but I really felt like his presence alone in the paint helped open things up, mainly for Taylor. The sophomore big man fought hard for position any moment he was on the floor, and even though he shot just 3-of-9, he commanded at least one big man and sometimes two. There were a couple of times when Ridley established perfect position right under the rim, and was rewarded with a bucket.

On the defensive end, Ridley blocked two shots, really moved his feet well on defense when he was matched up against Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin, and grabbed 14 rebounds.

8) After okay first halves, Austin and Jefferson were barely noticeable in the second half. Texas took them out of the game almost completely. The duo combined for 15 points on 4-of-16 shooting with 15 rebounds while Ridley and Holmes combined for 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting with 22 rebounds.

9) Texas was 25 points better than Baylor today, and that would have been more accurately reflected in the score if not for missed free throws (20-of-34 shooting by Texas) and some missed open jumpers.

That being said, one guy that really shot the ball well was Holland, who hit one of Texas' only three-pointers, and did so with a good-looking, in rhythm jumper with confidence. You can tell he continues to put in a lot of work there and is becoming a better shooter.

10) With 16 wins, the Longhorns have matched their win total from last season, and there are still 11 regular season games remaining. The computers (KenPom.com) now project Texas to finish 22-9 overall with an 11-7 Big 12 record, which would absolutely put Texas into the NCAA Tournament with no reason to sweat and would probably lock Barnes in as Coach of the Year.


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