Longhorns show grit in narrow losses

Dalton Phillips

For a second consecutive game, Texas put itself in a position to upset a nationally ranked opponent in overtime. But after erasing a 21-point deficit on Sunday afternoon, the Longhorns again failed to convert on several key opportunities, falling to Gonzaga 76-71 in the third place game of the PK80 Invitational.

Here are three takeaways from the Longhorns’ defeat:

Texas’ press is returning to form

After a promising early lead, the Longhorns went ice-cold midway through the first half. Texas connected on five of its 23 attempts from the floor during a stretch that helped the Bulldogs open up a 21-point advantage with just over 14 minutes left.

Then Texas turned to its press defense. Head coach Shaka Smart briefly showed full-court pressure earlier in the contest, but committed to the press down the stretch and reversed the momentum of the game. Fueled by Gonzaga turnovers, including a game-tying steal with two seconds left, Texas ended regulation on a 34-13 run and forced its second overtime of the tournament.

But despite the effective press, extra minutes saw more inconsistent play as the Longhorns managed just one field goal in the period. Texas’ offense may continue to struggle, but its press defense should provide problems for opposing teams throughout the season.

Perimeter shooting still a weakness

Opponents continue to exploit Texas’ reliance on its slashers and inside game. Gonzaga clogged the paint in response to every post up from freshman forward Mo Bamba or dive in the lane by the quick Longhorn guards. After shooting 17 percent from deep in the matchup with Duke, the burnt orange again failed to punish slow closeouts against the Bulldogs, connecting on eight of 22 tries from beyond the arc.

The hesitancy to let it fly was on full display in the dwindling moments of overtime as a number of Texas guards passed up good looks from three in favor of putting the ball on the floor. The Longhorn offense will have to shed its aversion to the long ball moving forward.

Future promising despite two-game skid

Texas went toe-to-toe with some of the country’s top talent over Thanksgiving weekend and demonstrated that this team is already stronger than the roster Smart ended with last March.

Bamba had five blocks and finished one point shy of a double-double against the Bulldogs, while his frontcourt teammate Dylan Osetkowski has emerged as perhaps the team’s most versatile player. After tallying an impressive 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Duke, the junior posted 11 points and seven rebounds on Sunday to go along with four steals.

Texas has also seen an uptick in production from sophomore guard Andrew Jones. He and freshman guard Matt Coleman poured in a combined 37 points on 48 percent from the floor in Sunday’s loss to Gonzaga.

The Longhorns are still working out early kinks, but Smart has to be pleased with his team’s performance through six games. After the trip to Oregon, Texas now returns home for a matchup with Florida A&M on Wednesday.