KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the third-straight game, Texas came out victorious in what felt like an NCAA tournament elimination game.
The Longhorns topped then-No. 14 Baylor on March 2. Then they defeated Kansas State on Saturday to end the regular season. And with the help of a crisp second half Wednesday night, Texas found a way to capture a 65–53 win over Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
“From the 16-minute mark down to about the six-minute mark, we were maybe as efficient as we’ve been all year offensively,” head coach Rick Barnes said.
However, it wasn’t a blowout the entire way for Texas against the last-place Red Raiders. Tech managed to stick with the Longhorns throughout the first half and seemed to have an answer for every Texas bucket.
Despite an efficient performance in the paint, the long ball eluded the Longhorns just as it had all year. Texas shot just 3-of-13 on 3-point attempts in the first half, which helped keep Tech in the game.
At the break, Texas was only looking at a 4-point lead.
“I did think we shot too many threes at the start of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m sure Tech and anyone would like for us to do that. … We wanted to get inside.”
And that’s exactly what the Longhorns did in the second half against the Tech zone.
Playing to its size advantage, Texas went on a 16–4 run to open up a 16-point lead.
Junior center Cam Ridley, freshman forward Myles Turner and sophomore guard Kendal Yancy each had their own old-fashioned 3-point play during the run, as Texas found its way to the paint and the line with ease. From there, the game was never close.
After 13 3-point attempts in the first half, Texas settled for just six in the second. Instead, the guards penetrated and dished, finishing the game with 17 assists and just eight turnovers.
“[Sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor’s] demeanor was as good as it’s been all year in terms of running things,” Barnes said.
Ridley, who did a good job of creating space in the block, broke out in the second half. He had just one shot attempt in the first half but connected on 5-of-7 in the second half for all 14 of his points.
“First of all, all the credit to the guards for looking for me,” Ridley said. “I’m going to play a lot more aggressive than I have before because that’s what the team needs from me.”
Yancy added 13 and Taylor put in 12 as the only other Longhorns in double-figures. The rest of the attack was fairly well-balanced, as the Longhorns outscored Tech in the second half, 35–27, which was closer in numbers than what it felt like.
The win sets Texas up with a date with No. 13 Iowa State in the quarterfinals Thursday night at 6 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
“I think we have a good chance to get into the [NCAA] tournament,” Taylor said. “But that right now can’t be the focus. We’re looking to win the Big 12 tournament.”