Tuesday, February 9, 2010
What in the world is wrong with Texas?
By Andy Katz
AUSTIN, Texas -- Rick Barnes’ therapy was to talk.
And talk. And talk some more.
I'm not sure I have ever seen a head coach of Barnes’ stature vent in such a calm and therapeutic manner after losing a game of this magnitude.
Clint Champman was one of 12 Texas players to see playing time in the Longhorns' loss to Cole Aldrich and Kansas.
Monday night's 80-68 victory by No. 1 Kansas -- the team Texas was supposed to challenge for the conference title and No. 1 seed -- was long over, well past an hour after the final buzzer, and Barnes was still discussing his Longhorns, why they have lost five of seven and how they’ll be just fine in due time.
But will they? Is the problem simple enough that the Horns can just fix their issues and start winning again?
"All I can tell you is that we’re 19-5 with seven regular-season games left," Barnes said. “How we got to 5-4 is pretty simple. If we had put our young guys out there early, then we wouldn’t have won whatever we did in a row [17 straight to get to No. 1 in the polls]. We weren’t going to do that. We knew at some point in time we needed to get them out there."
But the problem lies in whom to play, when to play them and for how long.
"If we would all play together," said Barnes, as he zig-zagged from point to point. "We’re going to fix this. We’ll be where we need to be. I knew there were issues that we were going to have to deal with and one of them was we weren’t totally together as a team."
And maybe that’s why Barnes is still searching for combinations. He played 12 players against Kansas, still unable to settle on a set rotation. He made a change in the starting lineup, inserting junior Gary Johnson for some offensive pop and sitting senior Justin Mason because, like Dogus Balbay, he had become an offensive liability.
Barnes leaned heavier on freshman J’Covan Brown off the bench, who played 32 minutes and scored 28 points. But just when you might get excited about Brown's steal, layup and 3-pointer to get Texas back in the game, he had a traveling call and then a poor shot -- a forced layup in traffic instead of giving up the ball to the hot hand of senior Damion James -- that led to Kansas stretching the lead again.
UT's one consistent player is James, who scored 24 points and made all four 3s. Center Dexter Pittman was a non-factor offensively, missing four of five shots and scoring three points. He had four blocks but was hardly a force. Freshman Avery Bradley had an ordinary game with 1-of-6 shooting, Balbay didn't do anything offensively (zero points and zero assists) and freshman Jordan Hamilton, who scored 27 points at Oklahoma State last week, continued to shoot too quickly and missed all six attempts and four 3s.
The Longhorns led 14-8 early in the game, but as soon as Barnes went to the bench, Texas wilted. Center Clint Chapman came in and played three minutes and had two turnovers.
Barnes said he had a hard time taking a senior like Mason out of the lineup because of what he has meant to the team. Barnes went back and forth on Brown. He said for all of Brown’s positives, there were still too many steps back. Yet, he hinted Brown will start over Balbay when the Longhorns play Nebraska Saturday in Austin.
"When we substitute, we get a couple of guys who get away from the gameplan," Barnes said.
Barnes said Hamilton has to understand how to get in the flow of the game, not to start "jacking up shots every time he gets them and think he has to go one-on-one and take really tough shots." But Hamilton can score points so he tosses him out there in case he can get going again.
"I didn’t feel everybody was in it together," Barnes said. "We were playing a lot of people, mixing and matching."
Brown showed he could produce in spurts. Bradley has had his run. Hamilton has been erratic. But Barnes said the reason Texas got picked high was because of those three newcomers.
And of course the expectation that Pittman would be a rock next to James.
"Dexter has to be a force in there," Barnes said. "Damion is trying really hard to do the right things and we tried him on the perimeter. What Dexter has to do is screen across. He can’t just get on the block and have the defender walk him across the lane while he stands straight up. He can’t do that. We knew they would double him."
Pittman has scored in double-figures only twice in the Big 12 this season.
And yet Barnes kept talking about how the Longhorns are still fine and will get this figured out.
At some point he will have to do what Kansas coach Bill Self did and go with a maximum of eight players. If someone isn’t happy about their playing time then so be it. He has to decide to ride the eight and finish strong with them. Time is running out to fix the erratic play.
Texas was No. 1 and now looks lost. The Big 12 title is out of reach now that the Longhorns are four games behind Kansas. So, too, is a No. 1 seed and the advantage of being the top team in Houston in the South Regional.
Barnes is still searching, talking and hoping he can find the answer by thinking aloud. He said he can.
He has to or else the Longhorns won’t be playing late into March, let alone early April.