There was 1:39 left in the first half. Texas was on an 18-4 run, and the Field House was slient.
Dogus Balbay had just waltzed right on through absolutely no one on his way to a layup, so open you'd have guessed he was in pregame layup lines. That was a common theme in the first half; uncontested drives to the bucket. Our defense was terrible, and we couldn't do anything wrong. Damion James couldn't miss from the outside, we didn't have anyone who could bully up with Dexter Pittman on the inside, and Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason walked into the lane whenever he wanted to. The one positive was holding A.J. Abrams in check, and even that was only because the Texas offense ran through others, largely ignoring Abrams for large portions.
But then, we settled down. Our stagnant offense came to life, and Sherron dipsy-ducked his way to the hole. On defense, Sherron poked the ball away from Pittman while doubling-him up, then sped down the floor before dishing it off to Releford for an easy two. After a Rick Barnes' timeout, Texas had another good offensive possession. But then, Pittman inexplicably Arthur Johnson'd the dunk, and we got the ball. Shot clock off, Sherron slowly dribbled the ball at the top of the key as always. For some random reason, Balbay ran away from Tyrel Reed, waiting patiently on the right wing, towards Sherron, presumably in an effort to double and force a turnover. Sherron merely dribbled in another step, to further draw in Dogus, then kicked it out to Relly Ice.
After a last-second attempt came up long, our bench ran into the half. Despite getting outplayed for 20 minutes, including an 8-minute stretch that was bordering on embarrassing, we had momentum.
Basketball's a funny game, ain't it?
In the second half, we used that momentum to slowly draw closer, then have Texas pull away. The cat-and-mouse lasted for the first 12 minutes of the second half, until a Markieff Morris putback dunk put us on top. The Horns reclaimed the lead once-or-twice after that, but it was clear; it became the Hawks' game to lose.
And lose it we didn't. We used our homecourt advantage, our superior talent, all of it, to race away from the Horns late. Against a good Texas team, that played as well as it has all season in the first half, we were able to reclaim everything we lost on Wednesday. We began to rebuild that swagger, we regained some confidence, we flashed our potential.
Oh, and we clinched the outright Big 12 title. Fifth in five years, 7th in 8 years. Talk about owning a conference.
Further, player-specific previewing after the break...
- Game MVP is a tough one, this time around. But, to diversify the MVP awards, I'll go ahead and give it to Brady Morningstar. I've been really tough on him lately, and for good reason. His defense had declined, and he hasn't had a good offensive game in months, it seems like. However, he played a role in Abram's off-day, and he was (finally) on fire from the perimeter. It was he, and not Relly Ice, who hit the biggest shot of the night with his momentum-garnering trey to bump the lead up to 5. He also picked up 4 rebounds, including skying as high as I've ever seen him jump for one, and dished out 4 assists. Basically, this was the late-December version of Brady; the Brady who was involved in the offense, was hitting the open threes and was playing dominant D. Hopefully, whatever that caused his slump is done with, and he can be this good going forward.
- So, yeah, sure, Sherron Collins ended up taking 19 shots. That's bad, in theory, and not exactly a step forward from Wednesday night in ball distribution. But, watching the game, I wouldn't have guessed he actually threw up 19 shots. Maybe I'm just an idiot, or don't pay enough attention, but he didn't seem like he was forcing anything. He got too aggressive on some fast breaks and tried to take it two-on-one, and those failed, but that's just Sherron. You've gotta live with some of those getting turned back around, particularly when playing a team full of athletic freaks like Dogus Balbay and Damion James, if you also want to see those absolutely ludicrous, one-on-three layups he twirls off the corner of the backboard. It's just who he is as a player; fearless. He hit some huge shots, though, and wasn't shy at all about dishing it off, twice, when we had a chance to blow the game open. He found Brady open for the three, he found T2 for the dunk. He is the key to our team, no ifs, ands or buts. Cole is important, too, but we've showed before (like today) that we can live if he is only all right. With Sherron, though, he's gotta bring it. And boy, did he ever.
- All year long, we've heard about how Cole Aldrich is the most improved player this year in college basketball. And maybe this is true. I'd argue that it isn't, that he didn't see any PT last year because of who was in front of him, but maybe I'm wrong. However, he still has a bunch of improving yet to do, and he is far from ready to play in the NBA. Two incredibly large flaws were exposed today by the surprisingly talented Dexter Pittman (honestly, if the dude could just finish around the basket, he's an All Big 12 talent...and I have a feeling he'll learn how to make layups). On offense, as Warden says, Cole turns into a racecar driver: "Turn left, repeat". He has no other move. And he never, ever faces up to the basket. And two, on defense, he got exposed today by Pittman. Dexter moved him where he wanted, placing him like a walkon off the end of the bench. It was bad. For the first time all season, I desperately wished we still had Sasha Kaun on this team. But, even amidst all of that poor play and non-readiness, Cole picked up a double-double. Yes, this is where we're already at with Cole. A double-double, and I'm disparaging him, almost to the point of calling him out, and proclaiming he ain't ready for the NBA. Sorry, Cole. But, when you're as important and potentially amazing as you are, people tend to be tough as hell on you. But, seriously, one more year.
- If Cole Aldrich is the nation's most improved player from last year, then Marcus Morris is the nation's most improved player from November. I mean, the dude has more post moves than Cole, and ate Damion James up for lunch. James had no hope of defending anything Morris threw at him, and that is incredible, given where he was when we were facing nobodies at the beginning of the year. It's gotten to the point where, when Cole is out there on the perimeter setting screens, I'm actively yelling at the TV for Sherron, or whoever, to get the ball in McMorris' hands. I know that he'll either get a good look or get fouled, and his free throw shooting is instrumentally better.
- While Markieff Morris isn't nearly as talented around the basket as his brother, and is a more boneheaded player, I think he's a better defender and rebounder. His putback jam was one of his best plays of the year (he read it from the elbow on the opposite side of the lane, and played it perfectly), and he provided us some monstrous minutes following Marcus' 4th. The three he took was atrocious, and he still has too many stupid turnovers, but he'll get better. Just look at his free throw shooting. Both he and his brother, to start out the year, were absolutely awful at the lane. Embarrassingly bad, really. But now, Kieffer stroked two in like he was a 94% free throw shooter, neither one touching rim.
- To close out the analysis of the Law Firm, this was the best game Mario Little's played in weeks. He wasn't perfect, and wasn't necessarily even awesome, but he did very little wrong. He couldn't really contain Damion James in the first half, but no one could, and he did a much better job in the second half. He should, definitely, be the fourth big off the bench, but he's still worth of consistent minutes.
Tyrel Reed, on the other hand, probably should see his decline. He's had some really good games, but most of the time, he just isn't that good. His three to close out the first half was huge and clutch and Relly Ice-ish, but that's the only positive of his entire day, really. He was exposed on D, and otherwise non-existent on offense. When Brady is hitting his threes, he provides nothing new. Instead, I'd rather be playing Travis Releford, who at least provides us with some versatility. 10 minutes, what he received today, seems to be about right for Travis. He still is very rough around the edges in the halfcourt, but his D is lightyears better than it was, and he's probably the third-best player on the team in fastcourt action, after Sherron and T2. Plus, dude's a solid rebounder.
- Finally, we get to Tyshawn Taylor. I have no idea why it took so long to get here, really. Dude played fine, for the most part, although it wasn't an awesome performance. It was what the "norm" should be considered for T2; some offensive flashes, and some stupid turnovers. Some instances of awesome D, sometimes where he just lost his man (like when he forgot to box out Justin Mason and Mason had a layup off the glass that tied it up in the second half). As long as he doesn't fall off the deep end for any games, and play terrible, I'm fine. Have some games like this, and then have some blowout, explosion games like down in Norman. That's all we really need, honestly.
That's all for now, as we officially wave good bye to Texas and the entire regular season. 6 losses ain't bad, not for a team losing 6 of their top 7 scorers.
Now, we turn our attention towards the Big 12 Tournament, set to kick off a day early now, on Wednesday.
We clinched our fifth straight regular season title this week, let's clinch our 4th straight Big 12 Tournament title on Saturday, huh?