The hallmark of a Rick Barnes team has always been a stifling defense. Now, two-thirds of the way through Big 12 play, the Longhorns are finally becoming a defensive menace.
Texas has won three straight games on the strength of its swarming D. UT (16-9, 6-6) is allowing an average of 63 points during the streak, and the Longhorns visit Oklahoma tonight looking to pester another opponent.
“The Texas defense looks very active, very aggressive with good size inside, terrific athletic ability on the perimeter and it all works well together,” said Sooners head coach Lon Kruger. “You have to be aggressive in attacking it, but that’s easier said than done. They are very good.”
The Sooners, in contrast, rank last in the league in team defense (72.8 points per game). But that doesn’t mean the Longhorns are taking them lightly.
“They have been like us; close on so many occasions,” Barnes said. “This time of year, every game is a huge game. You have to be ready to play; I don’t care who you’re playing. If you’re not [ready], you’re going to get beat.”
The Longhorns are 6-1 in conference play when they hold their opponent under 69 points, and 0-5 when allowing more than that. Texas, though, has struggled to defend away from home. In four road defeats, the Longhorns have given up over 80 points per game.
Still, Texas broke through last Monday against Texas A&M for its first Big 12 road win. Barnes is finally getting all of his six rookies up to speed on the defensive end — an area where many freshmen struggle.
“We’ve tried to put our most consistent defensive team on the floor to start the game,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a couple freshmen that are way ahead of the curve in Myck [Kabongo] and Julien [Lewis].”
Lewis’ quick grasp of his defensive assignments is one reason the shooting guard has started 18 games. The freshman is third on the team with 26 steals, but is dealing with hamstring discomfort for over a week.
“He wasn’t totally there [Saturday] but he went at it,” Barnes said. “If he can walk, he’s going to play.”
If the hamstring limits Lewis tonight, look for Sheldon McClellan to see more time. McClellan has scored in double-digits in each of the last three games, and Barnes has praised his improvement on defense.
While injuries have hampered Lewis at times, foul trouble is plaguing Kabongo. The point guard has been prone to pick up early fouls that land him on the bench in the first half. Against Kansas State on Saturday, the freshman committed his second foul more than 90 feet away from the basket.
“My job is to get us in the offense, and picking up silly fouls in the backcourt like that doesn’t help our team,” said Kabongo, who leads Texas with 127 assists. “I have to be a lot smarter with my fouls.”
When Kabongo is not on the floor, the offensive becomes stagnant. He’ll have to avoid cheap fouls if the Longhorns want to keep their win streak alive.
“We really need him in the game to get us going,” said leading scorer J’Covan Brown.
Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Texas looks to extend win streak to four