Texas hopes to avoid letdown at Texas Tech

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The Longhorns basketball team hasn’t learned how to close out games yet. They’ll get another chance on Saturday, though, when Texas travels to Texas Tech for a game against the Big 12’s worst team.

Texas blew a 12-point advantage in the second half of Monday’s 72-77 loss to Baylor, a defeat that dropped the Longhorns to 1-8 in games decided by six points or fewer. UT (17-11, 7-8 Big 12) can’t afford a similar letdown tomorrow against the Red Raiders.

“A 20 point lead is nothing,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “You have to continue to guard. You cannot give up wide-open 3s. You can’t let a guy get eight offensive rebounds. You can’t do that. Then on the other end, you have to make people guard you.”

When Tech visited the Frank Erwin Center Feb. 4, the Longhorns opened up a 25-point advantage with 9:06 left. But after building its largest lead of conference play, Texas became content and allowed the Red Raiders to rattle off 10 unanswered points in less than three minutes.

Texas was able to overcome its defensive lapses against lowly Tech (8-19, 1-4) back then, but the problem hasn’t gone away and the Longhorns have dropped two straight.

Part of Texas’ issues protecting a lead rests on the offensive end. The Longhorns have made a habit of taking bad shots when they play with a lead. Add that with a tendency for ball movement to cease and the offense becomes stagnant, resulting in a barrage of outside jump shots.

“It’s hard to drive the ball when guys stand,” Barnes said. “You make a pass and guys are standing around.”

The Longhorns’ inability to finish games and protect a lead down the stretch has dropped them to sixth in the Big 12. Now, they face an uphill battle with three games remaining in the regular season. Time is running out for Texas to make a case for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

“We’re just trying to stay above .500 in the league right now,” said senior forward Clint Chapman. “That’s one of our goals. Our plan is to take it one step at a time.”

Texas Tech, on the other hand, would like to know what it’s like to play with a lead. The Red Raiders have won just once in Big 12 play and have been competitive only in a handful of games.

Each of Tech’s 14 conference losses have been by at least nine points, including two defeats by more than 33 points.

“It’s frustrating,” said Texas Tech head coach Billy Gillispie. “Our team is fighting so hard and they’ve become physical enough and tough enough to win. We’ve become really good defensively, but when you turn it over and give the (opponent) layups ... you lose.”

Texas should have plenty of opportunities to practice protecting a lead in this game. It’s never too late to learn.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Late game losses hurt Texas, team hoping for Tech win