Monday, January 21, 2008

Searching for the Positives

It's easy to see the negatives in Texas' 69-67 home win over lowly Colorado on Saturday night. The first half defense and intensity was again atrocious. The offense was out of sync and couldn't hit anything. Gary Johnson played even worse, and less than in the Missouri game. The bench produced 4 points on 10 shots and missed both free throws they attempted. And up 10 with 4 and a half minutes to play, Texas packed it in, not scoring again as Colorado ended the game on an 8-0 run coming within two of sending it to overtime. Given all of the negatives, there are a few positives that stick out, that may be signs of Texas turning the corner on these mid-season doldrums that have seen us go 3-3 over our last 6 games.

Most importantly, regardless of how it looked, a win, is a win, is a win. 0-2 against the likes of Missouri and Colorado would have been a disastrous start to conference play. The win puts us in 5th in the Big XII looking up at three teams (Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor) that are catchable in the conference race. (On that note, I will only refer to our chances at 2nd in the Big XII, because Kansas is scary good. I have conceded the title to them. We are playing for second. I'm fine with that. They'll still lose in the 2nd or 3rd round of the tournament anyway.)

The second half of the Colorado (or the first 15:30 of the second half) is something that we've been waiting to see. Texas outscored the Buffaloes 41-22 over that stretch including a 23-2 run early in the second half. Texas played with fire and intensity, and most importantly they played defense. Texas was aggressive on the defensive end and forced turnovers and ran. It is the type of defense they played early in the season to jump out to their 13-0 start.

What triggered this defensive resurgence? The play of Justin Mason, who was left for dead on the Texas bench over the last few games. Mason's play combined with the lack there of from Gary Johnson, allowed him to log 36 minutes, and while he was 1-5 shooting, he recorded 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals, and 2 assists and played great defense on Richard Roby. His play has earned him the starting job against Oklahoma State tonight, and if he can make his presence felt defensively, he gives this Texas team a defensive identity that has been sorely lacking over the past few games.

The struggling play of Gary Johnson also seemed to allow Connor Atchley to rediscover his place in the offense. He once again provided the Longhorns with an efficient scoring threat as he logged 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting. He also contributed 5 rebounds and a block. Gary Johnson is a great player and will be great to have once he figures everything out, but his presence seemed to throw off the cohesiveness of the offense and it made Connor Atchley disappear from the offensive end. He is a reliable scoring threat that can get his points without a lot of touches, which is a nice thing to have with guards that can sometimes throw up some shots.

While the overall result and game as a whole is nothing to hang your hat on. The play of Justin Mason and Connor Atchley, along with the second half intensity is just the kind of performance that Texas has been missing over the last few games. They head into Stillwater tonight on short rest to take on a weaker than usual Oklahoma State game. But Iba-Gallagher Arena is still one of the toughest places to play in the country, and Oklahoma State will make this game close. With James Anderson at less than 100%, the Cowboys will once again rely on Terrel Harris and Marcus Dove to lead the way. Texas will have to defend on the perimeter as Byron Eaton and Obi Muonelo both provide back court scoring off the bench. When Texas' defense has been lacking this season, it has been on the perimeter. Oklahoma State can shoot the three, and likes to drive. They need to cut off penetration and cover the three point shot. But if Texas comes out and plays with some intensity and outworks OSU on the defensive end, then they should be able to win this game without too much trouble.

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