Texas said its recipe for victory was controlling the game tempo and managing space in the half-court offense.
Tuesday night, Myck Kabongo was the chef.
Kabongo served up 16 points to go along with seven assists and four rebounds in 30 minutes of play. But Texas head coach Rick Barnes said what was perhaps most impressive about his game Tuesday night wasn’t reflected in his stat line.
“What I think he did that was most impressive was he guarded their player all night. What people realize with Myck out front is that constantly getting beat up by teams setting ball screen. I thought he did a terrific job tonight. Offensively, he made good things happen, and defensively, he gets after it every night.”
But make no mistake, this was a stellar offensive performance for a team whose leading scorer, J’Covan Brown, has struggled the last two games.
Kabongo came into the game with happy feet right from the get-go. He found ways to slice and dice his way to the rim and draw fouls, as well as push the full-court offense down the hardwood. Barnes appreciated not only his speed on foot, but mental agility as well. Barnes said he was especially pleased with Kabongo’s ability to learn as the game went on.
“Where he got better tonight, was when he would realize he didn’t have anything, and he would bring the ball back out and we flowed better,” Barnes said. “That is his job.”
Despite pushing the tempo, the Longhorns didn’t score much in the way of fast-break points — they only scored six points on the run — but Kabongo was instrumental in the realization of nearly all of them. He even worked both sides of the court on some of the plays. With 10:19 left in the game and a commanding 57-40 Texas lead, Kabongo refused to slow things down. He snarled an offensive rebound away from his own teammate, gunned the ball down the court and made a cross-court bounce pass to Sheldon McClellan for the easy layup.
North Texas head coach Johnny Jones entered the contest with a plan to handle Kabongo’s speed, but he didn’t plan on the point guard hitting a pair of three-pointers — he’s only made one all season. Jones’ plan was to defend Kabongo from penetrating the paint, not seeing him as a player who could step out and stroke the trey. It backfired.
“[Defending Kabongo’s speed] was a concern for us, because he is fast. We wanted to get under screen and make sure he couldn’t get to the paint area,” Jones said.
“But when we did try that he was able to stretch the defense and knock down a couple of three. That’s six points we thought we could get going the other way.”
Kabongo’s performance was part of a fuller effort from the entire freshmen corps, but Kabongo was the undoubted field general in this game, as he commanded the court like a player who has stepped on the collegiate hardwood more than six times.
And he can’t wait to get things really cooking.
“I have to continue to execute, make my teammates better and put them in easier positions to score,” he said.
“We’ll have to prepare that for UCLA.”