Last Saturday’s three-point win over Rice was exactly what the Longhorns needed, according to Rick Barnes.
“That game was good for us,” the Texas head coach said on Monday. “I think being in a close game — at no point in time in that game did these guys panic.”
Whatever the Longhorns were expecting against Rice, they were treated to a lesson in clock management as the Owls matched them shot for shot and made the most of each long possession over the weekend.
Barnes hopes his team has learned from that experience as No. 19 Texas (5-1) faces the Southland Conference’s Lamar Cardinals (4-2) on Wednesday night in the Frank Erwin Center.
The Longhorns’ biggest problem against Rice was an inability to adapt against the Owls’ matchup zone. Texas had to settle for perimeter shots, a strategy which limited the team to 20 points in the first half and nearly led to the first home loss of the year.
“We need to be able to adjust,” said Texas guard Jai Lucas. “We need to be able to move to the next thing with no hesitation, to communicate and have patience.”
The team doesn’t practice much against the zone, according to Lucas, and it showed versus the Owls. Luckily for Lucas and the rest of the Longhorns, Lamar mostly runs a full-court pressure defense that relies on man-to-man coverage. That could play into the Longhorns’ strengths: post up ability in the frontcourt and strong individual defenders.
“You just have to focus on defense,” Lucas said. “For some reason, when you talk about defense I don’t think any player gets excited.”
The Cardinals are fresh off a 118-69 win over St. Gregory’s and have scored 90 or more points in a game four times this season, compared to the Longhorns’ single 90-point game.
But the Texas defense has held every opponent under 85 points, even in an overtime victory against 20th-ranked Illinois two weeks ago.
“Defense wins games,” said guard Cory Joseph. “If we can take care of that, then the other details ... will take care of themselves.”
Joseph would know. The first-year Longhorn started his sixth straight game for Texas on Saturday and is likely to be in the first five against Lamar because Barnes believes the young man is a reliable one-on-one defender.
Along with fellow freshman Tristan Thompson, the two rookies are first and second in minutes on the team by a wide margin.
“They play, they have a great motor,” Barnes said about his freshmen. “They’ve earned the time that they’ve had.”
Barnes said Joseph “has settled down” in his role while Thompson, who leads the team in blocks and steals, is now a player “people are going to game plan for.”
Texas, which last defeated Lamar 96-82 in 1995 and leads the all-time series 4-0, will get a chance to iron out the post-Rice wrinkles tonight at home against one of the Southland’s top teams.
The Rice game was a test for the Longhorns but they’re confident the close call will prepare them for what’s to come.
“You always want a game like that just to test you,” Lucas said.