Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2016
Monday night night, Texas rolled into Waco and beat Baylor, 67-59, earning one of those quality road wins that are so critical for NCAA Tournament resumes. For such a low-scoring game, it was an intense and fun matchup. The Bears and Longhorns fought to a draw in points in the paint (22 each) in a game that was highlighted by an entertaining and occasionally chippy battle between Rico Gathers and Prince Ibeh. In the backcourt, Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor dissected Baylor’s zone with precision to the tune of 14 assists against just two turnovers. While big games from Gathers and Taurean Prince kept the Bears alive until the final minute, a Connor Lammert three with 44 seconds remaining ultimately sealed the win. The victory thrust Texas into a heap of second-place teams in the Big 12, a dogpile that also includes Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. It also left some to wonder whether the Longhorns may now have a realistic shot to win the conference. It’s not a completely crazy thought, but while Texas under Shaka Smart has taken some important first steps over the last few weeks, a back-loaded league slate will leave the Longhorns with more work to do before they can be taken seriously as Big 12 title contenders.
The Longhorns are on the rise, but don’t call them Big 12 contenders just yet. (John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)
First, let’s acknowledge all the positives. Perhaps the biggest key to the Longhorns’ season thus far has been their improved ball-handling. Texas currently leads the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage during league play and ranks 24th nationally, a year after finishing a dreadful 245th. The turnaround in that category is made all the more impressive in that Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner — the two rotation players that Texas lost from last season — were actually the team’s most reliable ball-handlers in 2015. In other words, the Longhorns have reversed their turnover fortunes this year with largely the same personnel that made turnovers such a huge issue a year ago. Smart preached good decision-making with the ball while at VCU, and the Rams finished with top 30 offensive turnover percentages in four of his six seasons in Richmond. He’s been successful in bringing that same discipline with him to Austin.
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