For about 10 minutes after every game, Texas head coach Rick Barnes addresses the media and assesses his team’s performance. He could have saved himself a lot of time after losing to Baylor — a loss dropping Texas to 1-8 in games decided by six points or less — by summing up the origins of his team’s woes in his most poignant fragment of the night.
“Listening as opposed to hearing,” said Barnes, citing it as the most difficult lesson to impress upon his young team in late-game situations. “We come out of time-outs, and we don’t execute and we don’t understand exactly, certain situations.”
Barnes settled on this sentiment with an accepted resignation after his latest loss, something he had been hesitant to do in previous post-game press conferences. He’s criticized his players before, but has tried to play those instances off as a quick-fix, and he’ll even answer questions well past the allotted time frame. He normally walks in with analytical answers for what did and didn’t work. He sits up, he’s confident.
But on Monday night he sat back, draped his arms around the lonely chairs to his left and right, sighed as he answered and kept singing the same refrain. And the only thing he seemed confident about this time was that things can’t be corrected.
“Mental. Mental. It is all mental. Understanding the game. Time and score situations,” Barnes said.
Whether it be that he is correct in his assessment, that the onus to learn and grow lies on the mental willingness of his team or that the team’s problems with late game discipline may require more surgical coaching, can be argued both ways. What is becoming more evident, though, is that neither side thinks the other is doing their jobs.
In a moment of honesty, J’Covan Brown expressed his frustration with the blame-game after his team’s fist loss to Baylor earlier this season, highlighting a possible dissconnection from the team and coach.
“Myck [Kabongo] said it the best to us at the end of the speech we had from coach Barnes,” said Brown after the first Baylor loss. “We need to stop worrying about what coach is going to get on us about all the time. He’s going to say something but just move on from it. Don’t start pouting, getting down on yourself, just move on from it. That’s going to help us to start getting wins.” They haven’t. Not ones that matter, at least.
On Monday night, however, Brown showered himself in blame with that same blase acceptance Barnes displayed, making it hard to tell whether or not he truly believes it is all his fault.
“I turned it over. It’s easy. That’s all I had, I turned it over, we lost the game. I take the blame,” he said of the final series where Texas had a chance to play for the win. “I feel like every night I’m letting [my teammates] down. I’m trying, but I’m just not getting it right.”
His resignation may stem from a general lack of confidence the two units have in each other. With the game on the line, Brown did turn the ball over, but Texas also a time-out to burn that Barnes didn’t use when Brown was double-teamed. Surely Barnes knew a play drawn up for his leading scorer had the potential of being perfectly read by the Bears?
“I actually told the team, ‘I apologize. I should have called a time-out,’” Barnes said. “‘But on the other hand, I don’t know if it would do any good, because you don’t listen. And if we had drawn up one play and Baylor would have changed defenses, believe me, we would have been lost.’”
To be clear, both sides are aware of how good the team is capable of playing. Barnes loved how his team played in the first half Monday night where they pounced out to an early lead and held it into the early part of the second period. He even praised the team’s practice habits, which he called into question earlier in the season. The resignation becomes a factor when the coach questions a team’s mental fortitude.
“Early on [in the year] I could understand it, some of it, but this late and at this point in time?” Barnes rhetorically asked, and shrugged his shoulders.
But a head coach needs to have the confidence throughout game to pull a struggling, young team along. Listening rather than hearing is something both sides could probably benefit from, and it would save Barnes’ breath in the post-game for something more constructive.
Printed on Thursday, February 23, 2012 as: Late game flub encapsulates UT's struggles