Texas not taking lowly Red Raiders lightly


Fanny Trang

Texas and Sheldon McClellan aim to end their rough streak when they play Texas Tech at home on Saturday.

Sameer Bhuchar

The Longhorns have lost so many close games lately, they must be due for one to go their way sooner or later, especially with the cellar-dwelling Red Raiders coming into town.

But even though Texas is 13-0 against Texas Tech in Austin during the Rick Barnes era, Barnes doesn’t think the streak will last much longer.

“I don’t think any of them are easy, because I have enough respect for teams in this league and the coaches to where teams that you think are going to be down, work and continue to get better,” said Barnes, Texas’ head coach. “So when it’s all said and done we’ll have played the same amount of games as everyone else and see where we are. But I don’t think any of them are going to be easy.”

Things certainly haven’t been easy for the Longhorns these past two weeks, and it isn’t a stretch to say they’ve made it pretty hard on themselves at times. They’ve played the conference’s top competition including Kansas, Missouri, Baylor and Kansas State but have hung tough in each one of the contests. But Texas got into a pattern of bringing itself within striking distance only to crumble under the pressure in the close. The Longhorns have lost by only an average of 4.8 points over the last five losses.

“For some reason they’re just not turning into wins right now,” guard Myck Kabongo said after Texas’ last loss to Missouri.

Texas Tech may be Texas’ best chance to reverse the trend and get on a role. The Red Raiders have yet to win a Big 12 game and their last win came against a Southland conference opponent in December.

To ensure the must-win for Texas, they will have to heavily depend on the scoring ability of J’Covan Brown paired with Kabongo’s ability to orchestrate the offense. It’s been a hard balancing act asking both staples to show up at the same time, but it was close against Missouri. Kabongo’s 10 points came off his willingness to drive and get to the rim, and Brown’s 20 came from him just feeling in rhythm with his shot. When the pair’s teammates couldn’t provide the scoring spark Texas needed, Kabongo and Brown worked to drive the lanes and get to the line.

But Brown still shoulders much of the blame. With the final possession and a chance to hit the game winner, a designed play for Brown blew up and Kabongo was forced to take an ill-advised floater to seal the Tiger victory.

“I just got to find other ways to help us get wins and the last couple of games I haven’t,” Brown said. “I will figure it out. No matter what, I will.”

Brown is the Big 12’s top scorer, averaging nearly 20 points a contest. He has taken on most of the scoring load when his teammates haven’t been able to provide assistance. Texas’ next best scorer, Sheldon McClellan, has been a non-factor in Texas’ last two losses averaging only a couple of points and barely more than a rebound.

The Red Raiders rank at or near the bottom of almost every statistical category in the conference, except they shoot a slightly better field goal percentage. Their leading scorer is freshman forward Jordan Tolbert who averages 11.9 points and six rebounds a contest, and he has only had one double-digit scoring effort in the last five games. So if Texas can bring itself to rebound the way it has over the last half of the season — Texas destroyed Missouri on the boards Monday with a rebounding margin of 12 — and find points from its two sure hands as well as from a handful of role players, the Longhorns should cruise to victory. But if it can’t, the NCAA selection committee may start popping Texas’ bubble.

Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Red Raiders pose challenge for struggling Longhorns