Friday, March 21, 2014
Texas' team commitment pays off in end
By Adam Rittenberg
MILWAUKEE -- Many teams create watchwords before the season or the NCAA tournament, corny but commendable slogans that look good on dry-erase boards or in Twitter hashtags.
Few teams follow through on them. Even fewer do so the way Texas did Thursday night.
Three days earlier, Longhorns players and coaches had brainstormed three guiding principles for their tournament quest: fundamentals, team and win. The fundamentals lacked at times against Arizona State, as Texas committed 24 fouls and allowed too many open looks for the Sun Devils in the second half. But the Longhorns were the ultimate team, especially down the stretch, and they prevailed with an 87-85 win.
Cameron Ridley's acrobatic putback a flicker before the horn punctuated the victory and led off the highlights, as it should, but Texas' final four baskets all came on second-chance efforts, as Ridley and forward Jonathan Holmes combined for 10 offensive rebounds. There were fortunate bounces, but Texas repeatedly capitalized on them.
The Longhorns had six players score in double figures -- all five starters and freshman guard Martez Walker, who had a career-high 16. There are no Kevin Durants or T.J. Fords on the team that brought back Texas basketball and rescued coach Rick Barnes. Texas has many contributors, and it needed them all against an Arizona State team that controlled play after falling behind by 14 with 12:11 to play.
"We know we need everybody," guard Isaiah Taylor said. "Other teams, they always have two leading scorers. We know that anybody on our team can lead us in scoring on any given night. You can rely on everybody for confidence. All five of us can score, so we can pass it to anybody and everybody can create for themselves."
Thursday marked the sixth game this season in which Texas had at least five players score in double figures. The Longhorns adhere to the motto INAM -- It's Not About Me -- but as guard Javan Felix notes, it means to "selfishly attack your role."
Cameron Ridley, who made the game-winning shot for Texas, goes on the offensive in the second half.
"Before the game, we just talked about fighting," Felix said. "On those two plays, you just saw how hard we fought."
Arizona State led 83-82 with 35 seconds left when Felix fired a 3-pointer from the corner. The problem: it only went about 19 feet. As soon as he released it, he started shouting, "Short! Short!"
Fortunately, Holmes heard him, caught the air ball, scored and drew a foul.
"That's my assist," Felix said, smiling.
Another wayward 3-point attempt, this time by Holmes, appeared to send the game to overtime. But the 285-pound Ridley cut through the lane, caught the ball near his ankles and banked it in with his left hand, just outside the reach of Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski.
Ridley's first buzzer-beater at any level -- "The ball was never in my hands for that situation," he said -- came on the biggest stage.
"Arizona State players were crashing the boards, and I saw a small opening, so I took it," Ridley said. "The ball just happened to bounce my way, and I got the shot up as quick as possible."
Officials reviewed the play to make sure Ridley got the shot off in time. He had no doubt.
"Positive," he said. "Right when I released it, I started screaming. I knew I took the team to the next round."
A top-10 recruit with superb shot-blocking ability and touch around the basket, Ridley could be Texas' next megastar. Thursday night, he was simply one of several capable options who came through.
"Six people in double figures," Felix said. "That's the pure example of team."
The seventh-seeded Longhorns advance to face No. 2 Michigan on Saturday. A win will put them past the tournament's first weekend for the first time since an Elite Eight run in 2008.
Taylor joked in the locker room that it was the first time he had seen Barnes happy after a victory this season.
"Great team win," Barnes said. "Really a great team win."