The first two games for the Longhorns without senior center Cameron Ridley were a nightmare in the paint.
Texas gave up an average of 34 points in the paint and were out-rebounded in losses to UConn and Texas Tech. Senior center Prince Ibeh and junior forward Shaquille Cleare — the players tasked with replacing Ridley’s production in the post — posted 11 points total in those two games.
But Tuesday’s win was a change for the two big men tasked with filling the hole left by Ridley’s injury. Ibeh and Cleare combined for 11 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Kansas State.
Now the Longhorns are looking to keep that going heading into their game at TCU on Saturday night.
“We've just got to keep working with him to do more of those good things, and then work on how we can be effective with him on the floor offensively,” head coach Shaka Smart said of Ibeh.
Ridley was averaging 12.7 points when he went out, up from 8 points per game last year. The increase in scoring was a result of increased touches, with Smart saying Ridley was their best offensive option back in December.
Since Ridley went out, however, the Longhorns have turned to their outside game, shooting 74 three-pointers in the last three games with mixed results at best.
Ibeh said, however, that a return to the inside-out offense early against the Wildcats helped him be more involved offensively.
“It just makes the game easier,” Ibeh said.
The Longhorns have also relied on the press to make up for the loss of Ridley. Smart, whose Virginia Commonwealth teams were known for their energy and press, has continued to increase the full-court press recently.
The immediate results haven’t shown up in the box score — the Longhorns forced just nine turnovers Tuesday — but Smart said it still helped in other ways.
“I did think it got some energy going,” Smart said. “It was able to take them out of rhythm. I thought it helped us, and we just have to keep getting better at it.”
Saturday’s showdown against TCU in Fort Worth likely won’t be as tough as Texas’ first two Big 12 games. The Horned Frogs are one of two Big 12 teams without a conference win and sit 204th in the RPI.
But TCU has shown some signs of potential. The Horned Frogs only lost by five to No. 15 SMU and forwards Vladimir Brodziansky and Karviar Shepherd each have 14 blocked shots.
As the Longhorns continue to find their footing without Ridley, senior guard Javan Felix said they’re not taking anyone lightly — even TCU.
“You know, you have to put your best foot forward every day in practice and come out and translate that to the game no matter who you are playing,” Felix said.