Texas head coach Shaka Smart reacts to a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Oklahoma won 72-62.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Offensively inept Longhorns searching for answers, buckets

Posted January 9th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • The under-achieving Texas basketball team, which lost 72-62 to the Sooners to fall to 0-2 in Big 12 play for the first time in Shaka Smart’s fractured, five-year tenure and is already coming perilously close to dropping out of contention for anything meaningful because it can’t get the ball to its best player, forward Jericho Sims.
  • For the life of me, I’m just not sure what this team’s offensive identity is. The 8,805 stupefied fans on hand, who filed out somberly and silently in the last minute, watched their team hit their first four bombs of the game, then connect on just four of the next 25 deep shots.
  • The fans were also witnesses to a whole lot of dribbling. Texas can do that very well. Never mind some of the mindless 14 turnovers, three in five possessions by guard Courtney Ramey deep in the second half.

Kristian Doolittle likes the rims at the Erwin Center.

Actually, the Oklahoma forward loves ‘em. Loves ‘em so much, it’s surprising he wasn’t out on the court Wednesday night with a welder’s blowtorch to dismantle them and take them back to Norman.

Doolittle has regularly torched the Longhorns in Austin, starting with a 29-point outburst as a freshman and knocking down 22 on Wednesday.

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Asked what his career would have been like had he spent it all at Texas, the 6-7 senior chuckled and said, “I probably wouldn’t be here anymore, if that’s the case.”

Then he added, “The rims are soft.”

But winning is hard. Still.

At least, it is for the under-achieving Texas basketball team, which lost 72-62 to the Sooners to fall to 0-2 in Big 12 play for the first time in Shaka Smart’s fractured, five-year tenure and is already coming perilously close to dropping out of contention for anything meaningful because it can’t get the ball to its best player, Jericho Sims.

Know that after Saturday’s home game against a desperate 7-7 Kansas State team that is also 0-2 and has its own offensive woes, Texas travels to Oklahoma State, hosts No. 3 Kansas (12-2) and goes to No. 17 West Virginia (12-2) before hosting LSU (10-4).

Yikes.

Some would argue there are no such things as must-win games in the first half of January. But these offensively challenged Longhorns started out like gangbusters before quickly wilting in yet another awful shooting contest that doomed them to defeat for the third time in four games. (Thank God for High Point.) It’s early, but it’s later than you think.

At this rate, the NIT can’t get here fast enough.

If Texas wants to reach the NCAA Tournament, it absolutely has to clean up on home games, especially against second-tier Big 12 teams. And find a consistent offense.

“A loss is a loss,” point guard Matt Coleman III said. “All of them feel the same way. We just got to get better.”

For the life of me, I’m just not sure what this team’s offensive identity is. The 8,805 stupefied fans on hand, who filed out somberly and silently in the final minute, watched their team hit their first four bombs of the game, then connect on only four of the next 25 deep shots. Meanwhile, the visitors made half their shots and 40% of  their threes.

The fans were also witnesses to a whole lot of dribbling. Texas can do that very well. Never mind some of the mindless 14 turnovers, three in five possessions by guard Courtney Ramey deep in the second half.

“We didn’t get enough out of the times we got in the paint,” Smart said. “We make a big deal of getting the ball in the paint, but we didn’t finish enough in there, and we had some costly turnovers when we were in there.”

Coleman and Ramey have the ball in their hands the majority of the time, and they combined for just four assists and five turnovers. That’s a losing ratio by any basketball manual.

Their job on Wednesday primarily was to feed the ball inside to Sims. He has flourished of late and had his third straight double-double, but the guards’ biggest sin was ignoring him down on the low block or just flat being unable to get him the ball. Neither of which was acceptable.

Now the soft-spoken Sims may be the most quiet person in America, but he’s got a loud game and has played like the team MVP recently. He had a couple of thunderous dunks, including a double-handed flush that ignited the crowd. 

But he got his hands on the ball so infrequently, he could have been mistaken for someone waiting for a bus. In the second half, he attempted only two shots in the final 18 minutes and none in the final 5:21. Totally unacceptable.

His 31-plus minutes were the second-most on the team, but Sims took a scant nine shots. Nine. He should have had that many in each half.

“We’d rather he get 15-plus,” Smart acknowledged. “We actually made a lot of play calls for him, but they did a nice job of taking way the post-pass entries. Some of that is on Jericho in terms of being a little more aggressive.”

Yeah, probably a lot of that. Smart also conceded he may have to script more plays and not give his players so much freedom offensively. Sims looks like a caged lion who needs prodding because he’s capable of putting up some big numbers. Maybe someone needs to tell him their daddy can beat his daddy or he needs a haircut to rile him up.

When OU coach Lon Kruger was asked what he feared most from this Texas team, he said, “They’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can score. It’s a hard prep. You can’t cheat in any one area. They’re good across the board.”

Sure, Lon. So many weapons that Coleman, Ramey and Jase Febres — who’s been more dull-shooter than sharp-shooter with a 2-for-14 showing his last two games — combined to sink four of their 20 deep shots against OU.

That’s why they’re sitting here in January with a No. 64 national ranking according to kenpom.com, and are projected to go 7-11 in the league to finish a pedestrian 17-14. 

I hear New York is beautiful in March.

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