Cam Ridley

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Junior forward Connor Lammert and Texas controlled most of the game against Kansas on Jan. 24, but ultimately fell short. Since then, the Longhorns have nearly fallen out of the NCAA tournament picture.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Boom. Boom. Pow.

In a span of 82 seconds late in the second half Saturday, senior forward Jonathan Holmes nailed a pair of 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions and sophomore guard Kendal Yancy found junior center Cam Ridley in transition for an and-1, alley-oop dunk.

The rapid 9–2 run stretched the Longhorns’ 2-point lead to 9 with under seven minutes remaining in the game to help guide the Longhorns to a much-needed 62–49 victory over Kansas State.

The impressive run was big for Holmes, who entered the game mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. He hadn’t scored more than 7 points in any of his previous seven games, connecting on just 10-of-42 shots over that stretch.

But in what was Senior Day at the Frank Erwin Center, Texas’ lone scholarship senior came up huge.

“It was great for him,” head coach Rick Barnes said.

Holmes finished the game with 10 points, two rebounds and a career-high four blocks. His 3-pointers earned loud cheers from the fans, and by the end of the Longhorns’ 82-second rally, the Erwin Center was louder than it had been all season long.

“That was a lot of fun,” Holmes said. “It’s pretty much all you can ask for your last game here. My teammates really picked up their game, and it made me really pick up my game. I love those guys for that.”

Before Holmes’ late outburst, Texas frontline’s defense kept the Longhorns in the game. Texas tied a school record with 14 blocks in the game, and it essentially took away the Wildcats’ ability to score in the paint for most of the first half.

The Wildcats missed 17 shots in the first half. 10 of those were blocked. In addition to Holmes’ four blocks, Ridley and junior center Prince Ibeh each added three.

With the victory, the Longhorns improved to 19–12 on the season and 8–10 in conference play. They enter next week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, on the bubble for a spot in the NCAA tournament. After two consecutive victories to end the regular season, they are in much better shape than they were a week ago.

Texas now has the chance to improve its résumé even further at the conference tournament, in which it will take on Texas Tech in the first round Wednesday. Barnes chose not to speculate on whether his team has done enough to earn a spot in the Big Dance.

“Are we good enough to be [in]? Absolutely,” Barnes said. “We still got games out in front of us. If we’ve done enough to be in it, we’ll be in it.”

“Right now, everybody’s feeling good about the last two games,” junior guard Demarcus Holland said. “We feel like everybody’s coming along. We still trust the system, and we still believe that we can win and play in the tournament.”

Sophomore guard Kendal Yancy served as Texas’ spark in its victory over TCU. Several Longhorns played big roles in this much needed win, the 600th of head coach Rick Barnes’ career.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Stock Up: Sophomore guard Kendal Yancy

Yancy set the tone for Texas’ victory Wednesday night. After a slow start, Yancy woke Texas up with two deep balls. He ended the game with 12 points and four rebounds.

With senior forward Jonathan Holmes sidelined because of a concussion, head coach Rick Barnes needed someone to step up, and Yancy, starting in his place, did just that. He even got to wear the warrior’s belt, which looks like a boxing title belt with the inscription, “Do your job.”

Stock Up: Junior center Cam Ridley

Ridley got back to being a dominant force in the paint after struggling against Kansas State. The biggest body in the paint ended up with a double-double, posting 15 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks. Most importantly, he got to the free-throw line often throughout the night. Unfortunately, he hit just 7-of-13 from the charity stripe.

Near the end of the first half, Ridley even attempted to bring the rim down with him after getting fouled on a dunk, not letting go until the last possible second. The backboard started to tilt, sending the fans into a frenzy and Ridley scurrying for cover.

“I was scared,” Ridley said. “I thought it was going to fall on me. I tried to put it down hard.”

Stock Down: Junior center Prince Ibeh

While he did a good job defending the rim in his nine minutes, Ibeh just didn’t quite follow up on his spectacular game against Kansas State on Saturday. Against the Wildcats, Ibeh put up 4 points, four blocks and four rebounds on his way to becoming an unsung hero. But he tallied no points, no rebounds and just one block Wednesday night. 

By the Numbers:

50: Myles Turner’s free-throw percentage in the last four games. Going into the Baylor game less than two weeks ago, Turner was shooting an outstanding 89 percent from the line — especially significant considering he’s a 6-foot-11 freshman. But, in the four games since, he’s gone 5-of-10 from the line. It’s no longer automatic for him.

31: Free-throw attempts for Texas. Time after time, Barnes has gotten frustrated with his team’s inability to get to the line. However, they didn’t make the most of their opportunity, hitting only 21-of-31.

4: Number of 3-pointers junior guard Javan Felix hit in his first game back after missing two straight with a concussion. He got off to a slow start, missing his first two, but hit four of his final five. He also sunk his only attempt from inside the arc — a baseline jumper off an out-of-bounds play.

4: Offensive rebounds for Texas. That’s the lowest of the year for Texas. Despite outrebounding TCU, 36–27, the Longhorns weren’t getting many second-chance looks. Considering they shot 51 percent — not astronomically good — there were plenty of opportunities for more.

For the first time since the start of Big 12 play, No. 20 Texas looked like a team worthy of all the preseason hype.
 
The Longhorns navigated No. 20 West Virginia’s high-pressure defense all game long en route to a 77-50 statement victory in front of their home fans. 
 The victory snapped an ugly two-game losing streak for the Longhorns, who were embarrassed at home against Oklahoma on Jan. 5 and before falling to Oklahoma State in Stillwater five days later.
 
The biggest reason for Texas’ impressive bounce effort against West Virginia was the reemergence of junior center Cam Ridley. After scoring a combined seven points in the losses against the Sooners and Cowboys, Ridley erupted for a season-high 19 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes
 
“This week in practice we worked on different ways to get me involved in the game,” Ridley said. “I came into the game with the mindset that I’m going to do whatever I can to help my team, because I haven’t been doing that."
 
Ridley bullied the Mountaineer’s much smaller frontcourt on both sides of the ball converting on eight of his 10 shot attempts while blocking four shots. His ferocious block on freshman guard Jevon Carter’s lay-up attempt with over nine minutes remaining in the first half forced West Virginia to call a timeout and caused the fans to raise to their feet in applause. 
 
“Cam set a great tone for us early,” said head coach Rick Barnes. 
 
Senior forward Johnathan Holmes, who scored just four combined points on 2-of-19 shooting in Texas’ back-to-back losses, also rebounded nicely with 16 points and nine rebounds. His shooting struggles from the field continued, however, as he made just 2-of-6 attempts, but he converted on 11-of-12 free throw attempts to help lead Texas to its highest point total of conference play. 
 
“It was a good win,” Holmes said. “It’s a conference win. It’s big for us moving forward [to win] against a really good team.”
 
The Longhorns played perhaps their best defensive game of the season, holding West Virginia to nearly 29 points below its season average. Texas limited the Mountaineers to just 24.1 percent shooting, the lowest a Big 12 team has ever shot against Texas in the regular season. 
 
With the win, the Longhorns improved to 2-2 in conference play. They’ll look to begin their first winning streak of conference play on Monday when they travel to Fort Worth to take on TCU.

Big Blue Madness was a sight to behold. Rupp Arena, home of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, was sold-out and bouncing: The players were introduced by smoke machines, there was a multilevel stage to heighten the moment, and Drake introduced head coach
John Calipari.

It was exciting and kicked-off the start of the basketball season, despite the first game being almost a month away. The intra-team scrimmage gave fans a first look at the preseason No. 1 team in a concert-like atmosphere. 

The day after Big Blue Madness, on Saturday afternoon, No. 10 Texas had its own way of showing off the team to fans: an open scrimmage. While Rupp Arena was sold out, the Frank Erwin Center was hardly able to make the front levels look crowded, as only about 300 fans rolled in to watch.

But there was still excitement in the air as fans got their first looks at the team and its prized freshman forward Myles Turner. Before resorting to situational drills, head coach Rick Barnes had his team run two 12-minute halves just like a real game. Although it was a small sample, it was our first look at the team and a few things stood out.

First things first, it was all about Turner.

All eyes are on Turner to see how he can help take this program to the next level, and on first impressions, he looks ready, especially on offense. He looked most comfortable at the high post, with a smooth catch-and-shoot from around the elbow. He did a good job of keeping the ball high consistently and opening up the offense. He also showed off some handles, driving from the top of the key to the rim to finish an “and-one.”

While he looked incredibly smooth on offense, there were some areas in which he clearly needs work. On the block, junior centers Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh threw him around. Both centers had little trouble backing down the thinner Turner and getting the shot they wanted.

Turner also didn’t have the best of hands. Multiple times it seemed as though the ball would just bounce off them and result in a turnover.

But Texas fans should be excited for Turner. He proved he can play with Ridley and help spread the court. He was comfortable with the ball and the jump shot and, by season’s end, he should be the best player.

The other freshman, forward Jordan Barnett, looked a little out of place. The 6-foot-6 forward clearly isn’t as strong as he needs to be, but that will come with time. While he did have a few good spurts — hitting a corner three and getting a block at the end of one of the halves — he was unimpressive for the most part. Despite seeming to be in the right spots on defense, he was a bit lackadaisical and was caught ball-watching a bit too much. While he’s not ready yet, there is definitely a need on this team for the intangibles he has as a tall, quick and athletic forward.

While we got our first look at the freshmen, we also got to see the development of the returning players, most notably Ridley.

The center seems to be getting better and better each year, showing up at the scrimmage looking both stronger and slimmer. And when he was in, the offense worked its way around him. He dominated in the post and looks to be the primary option in this offense.

By the time the scrimmage was over, one thing was clear: This is one of the deepest teams Barnes has ever had. He has 11 guys he can use, as every position except point guard has significant depth.

For the first time since I’ve been a student at UT, there is excitement around the basketball team. And there should be. This team is legit.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Sophomore guard Javan Felix has struggled at times this year, sophomore center Cam Ridley has the occasional off night and freshman guard Isaiah Taylor is currently on a cold streak of his own. But one man has been the emblem of consistency for Texas this season: junior forward Jonathan Holmes.

That was not the case on Friday night, when Holmes was held scoreless in the first half and finished with just six points on 12 field goal attempts. The junior forward’s rare inefficiency, combined with the tribulations of several of his Longhorn teammates, resulted in the Longhorns dropping an 86–69 decision to the Baylor Bears in their Big 12 semifinal matchup at the Sprint Center.

“We didn’t execute on offense and we didn’t keep them off the board on defense,” Holmes said. “So they were tougher than us tonight.”

Holmes’ poor performance was most uncharacteristic, but he was just one of many Texas scorers who were handcuffed by Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone defense. The Longhorns appeared perplexed by the scheme, failing to find open looks on the perimeter or successfully enter the ball into the post.

Felix had just two points on the night and only attempted four field goals. The sophomore guard was averaging almost 12 attempts per contest coming into the game, but was unable to generate shot opportunities against the stout zone.

“They sagged off Demarcus [Holland] and Isaiah [Taylor] and they shaded towards me,” Felix said. “That makes it tough to get shots up. If I’m not getting open looks and I’m not shooting the ball, then our team is stagnant.”

For Ridley and sophomore center Prince Ibeh, the interior touches just weren’t there. Texas’ guards failed to find ways to get the ball inside to the big men, even when they were able to get a seal on the block. The two centers were efficient, converting six of their nine attempts, but just never had an opportunity to impact the game.

“[Baylor’s] whole defense was just sagging in on us,” Ibeh said. “ That was something they put an emphasis on. We needed to make some mid-range shots to open it up but those shots just weren’t falling.”

Defensively, the Longhorns failed to defend Baylor’s 3-point shooting. Led by senior guard Brady Heslip, the Bears came into the contest as one of the top 30 3-point shooting teams in the country and, by the final horn, they’d proven why. Heslip had six triples of his own while his teammates added six more. Scott Drew’s team converted 50 percent of its attempts from deep in the game.

The blowout loss obviously comes at a bad time for Texas, who will now have to find a way to refocus and correct its mistakes before the NCAA Tournament kicks off next week. The Longhorns will find out their seed, opponent and regional on Sunday but regardless of who they play, a performance like tonight’s will not get the job done.

“We have to watch the film and see what we did wrong,” sophomore forward Connor Lammert said after the loss. “We have to know the feeling we’re feeling right now and we just can’t accept that anymore. We have to know that if we feel this again, it’s the end of the season for us.”