NCAA tourney berth still within reach

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Junior guard J’Covan Brown lines up a jumper during Texas’ 73-59 victory over Rice at the Erwin Center Dec. 31. Brown, the Longhorns’ leading scorer, poured in 23 against the Owls and dropped 34 on the Tigers in Texas’ most recent contest, an 84-73 loss, despite recently injuring his right ankle.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

While most students packed up and headed home for the holiday break, the Longhorns played seven games.

Texas went undefeated at home, beating Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Rice and Temple. Still, the Longhorns were winless on the road with an ugly loss in North Carolina, and defeats to Iowa State and Missouri. But a 4-3 record isn’t the worst way to spend the holidays.

With six freshman and just two seniors, Texas played like a young team: defensive lapses, stagnant offense, bad turnovers. The Longhorns, though, also dazzled at times.

J’Covan Brown started 2012 with a left ankle sprain on Jan. 4 in Ames, Iowa. But two mediocre games and one 34-point outburst later, and Brown says he’s at 70 percent. The junior is treating the ankle three times a day and has looked better in each of the three games after the injury.

The Longhorns are a different team with a healthy Brown, and strong play from him is a necessity as Texas looks to stay afloat in the Big 12. He’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket, using a deadly spin move in the paint that always seems to shake the defender.
“Drawing fouls, getting to the free throw line ... being aggressive helps my teammates be more aggressive too,”
Brown said.
Brown’s supporting cast was aggressive at times, often with mixed results.
Julien Lewis led Texas with 16 points in a win over the Aggies, but followed with a one for 10 performance at Mizzou. He’s been a streaky shooter, but when Lewis is on, the offense becomes more dynamic. Fellow freshman Jonathan Holmes, Jaylen Bond, Sterling Gibbs and yes, starting point guard Myck Kabongo, have all had their moments, both good and bad. But remember, the rookies have just four Big 12 games under their belts. Kabongo, though, had the most impact from this group and proved he can go for a double-double on any given night.
However, the Longhorns haven’t exactly been efficient with the ball.
And after Texas’ latest road loss of the break, head coach Rick Barnes said, “Our problem still lies on the offensive end. We just don’t do the things that we need to do to give ourselves a chance to be the team that we can be.”
So what kind of team can the Longhorns be?
The Big 12 season is young, with 14 conference games are on the horizon. Texas returns from the break with Kansas State on Wednesday and a visit from Kansas on Saturday. We’ll learn a lot more about the Longhorns this week against two of the Big 12’s elite teams.
One thing is certain though, Texas survived the holidays and remains capable of securing a trip to March Madness.