WACO — There wasn't much for the Longhorns to take away from another road loss, except for J'Covan Brown rediscovering his shooting touch.
Texas didn't execute down the stretch, the role players offered little assistance to Brown (the Big 12's leading scorer) and the Longhorns were outmuscled in the paint, all of which added up to a 76-71 loss to No. 6 Baylor on Saturday.
Brown broke out of an 18 for 70 shooting slump and scored 32 points against the Bears. He made 11 of 22 shots, a welcome sight for the Longhorns, who struggled to find offense during Brown's recent three-game cold streak.
Still, Brown's second 30-point game in conference play didn't do much to lift his spirits after UT's fourth defeat in its last five games.
“All the shots I made don't even matter because we didn't win,” Brown said.
The Texas bench picked up Brown on Tuesday when he couldn't buy a bucket against Iowa State. But help was nowhere to be found in Waco. Myck Kabongo offered the only other effective option, adding 11 points. But the point guard played only five minutes in the first half, after being saddled early with two fouls.
“I let my team down by not being on the court,” Kabongo said. “I need to be a little smarter about my fouls.”
The Longhorns (13-8, 3-5 Big 12) still haven't found a way to combine a great night from the bench with one of Brown's offensive explosions.
“It's frustrating,” Brown said. “Guys have to come and play every night.”
Head coach Rick Barnes has been pleading for consistent play from his entire team for weeks. It didn't happen in Waco and there aren't many signs that point to Texas figuring it out soon.
“We still don't have that,” Barnes said. “We've got to have everybody.”
For a Texas team in desperate need of consistency from everyone, the Longhorns need not look further than tonight's opponent for an example of where balanced play can take a program.
No. 2 Missouri makes its final trip to the Frank Erwin Center tonight as a conference opponent. The Tigers (19-2, 6-2) are second in the Big 12 in scoring with 75 points per game, and have four players who average at least 11 points per game. That list doesn't include starting point guard Phil Pressey, who burned Texas for 10 assists and no turnovers during Mizzou's 84-73 win over UT on Jan. 14. The freshman chips in nearly 10 points per game (9.7 average) and is second in the conference with 50 assists in eight Big 12 games.
“Pressey orchestrates the whole game,” Barnes said. “He makes the game real easy for those other guys. They're a really good offensive team.”
First-year head coach Frank Haith has taken the loads of talent he inherited from Mike Anderson and shaped the Tigers into one of the nation’s most explosive teams. Haith worked as an assistant under Barnes from 2001-04 before leaving for Miami. He turned around the Hurricane's program and is on the fast track to elevating Mizzou to elite status.
That's no surprise to Barnes, who said he attributes Mizzou's success this season to his former pupil.
“All of it,” he said. “I love Frank. Missouri did good getting him and they better do everything they can to keep him. He's got a great future ahead of him. He's always wanted a job like this.”
Haith was well known for recruiting LaMarcus Aldridge during his time at UT. Now, he's got another talented forward on his squad in Ricardo Ratliffe. The junior leads the nation in shooting percentage and scored 21 against Texas a few weeks ago.
“He's as hard to guard as anybody,” Barnes said. “If you give him angles down there and he does a tremendous job of getting to the rim.”
The Longhorns have struggled to defend the paint in recent weeks and will need a better effort from their bigs for Texas to pull off an upset.
Of course, a stronger first half would go a long way in fixing the Longhorns' woes. Texas is 0-6 in games decided by six points or less, and poor starts have doomed UT against quality opponents like the Tigers.
“We have to find a sense of urgency from the start,” Kabongo said. “We always find ourselves behind and we've got to learn how to come out and get going earlier.”