Golden: As Longhorn bricks pile up, big man Jericho Sims remains underutilized
Sims had only five field-goal attempts in a game the Horns made only 7-of-24 three-pointers
- The 68-59 loss dropped Texas to 14-7 overall and 8-6 in Big 12 play.
- Texas has made only 12 of 50 three-pointers over the last two games.
When Plan A isn’t working, there has to be an alternative.
Texas has one but often refuses to go there, even when the shots are falling short of the mark.
Get it to Jericho Sims. Sounds simple enough. He's a 6-foot-10 pogo stick who has delivered when called upon.
Somehow, a player who makes high-percentage shots just doesn't get enough touches.
Amid a defensive blitz on the road against the desperate Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday, these Longhorns turned into a bunch of one-trick ponies, stubbornly launching 3-pointer after 3-pointer against an undersized defense that had no consistent answers for their big man.
Texas lost for the seventh time in eight games against Chris Beard’s Red Raiders, and the 68-59 score would have been much worse had it not been for a late run that put UT in position to spring an unlikely road win.
Yes, this is a guard’s team, but really good teams find a way to keep their big guys engaged and involved. Texas’ three-headed monster of Matt Coleman III, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey has shouldered the offensive load this season, but on days like Saturday, there wasn’t enough of a push to embrace a Plan B.
Or a Plan J, in this instance.
The Horns, at 14-7 and 8-6 in Big 12 play, are going to make the NCAA Tournament, but between now and the tipoff of their opener, they had better figure out how to incorporate a solid big into this offense because what we saw Saturday was players shooting with desperation and not in the flow of a structured, cohesive attack.
That’s too bad because Sims has been their most consistent interior threat, albeit as a fourth or fifth option. Social distancing is one thing, but Sims averaging only five field-goal attempts in one of the best stretches of his career doesn’t cut it.
Let’s face it: The 3-pointers haven’t been falling lately, and while I understand the ride-or-die mentality when it comes to entrusting these guards with the team’s fortunes — they're Texas' best players — Sims’ lack of touches is a real eyesore lately, given his improved play in the paint.
In 20 games, he has yet to have a game with double-digit field-goal attempts. That’s partly due to a really slow start to the season, but it doesn’t explain why he isn’t getting fed over the past couple of weeks, wheren he has played his best ball. Sims is a blistering 18-for-24 from the field over the past five games, but the Horns have been more content to jack up 3-pointers. Texas has made 12-of-50 triples over the past two games, a frigid 24% clip that underscores a greater need to take advantage of the size of Sims and the slashing 6-foot-11 Kai Jones in the interior.
That was working in the first half, but then Texas got too jumper happy. When Ramey fed Greg Brown for a layup to cut the lead to eight in the second half, it broke an 18-minute drought between Texas points in the paint.
Smart said the Horns didn’t do a good enough job of getting in the paint, but saying it isn’t enough because he watched the same game we watched: Texas players swinging for the fence with 3-pointers against a suffocating zone instead of attacking a defense devoid of shot blockers.
The Horns opened the second half with 11 straight misses, including an ugly 0-for-7 brickfest from 3-point range. A lot has been made of Sims not being demonstrative enough in demanding the ball, but the large number of clanks being served up by his teammates raises the question … should he even have to ask?
“Jericho has to continue to improve at just catching and going right up, and that's something that I think he's made progress in, but we've got to keep working with him on it,” Smart said. “And then we've got to throw it up to him more for him to go get it.”
More touches would equal more improvement if we’re operating under the glass-half-full program. Coleman, Jones and Ramey combined to go 6-for-24 from the field while Sims, who went 4-for-5, was left to forage for touches off of offensive rebounds.
Worse yet, other Horns resorted to hero ball.
Brock Cunningham threw up a sky hook. Kai Jones jacked up an ill-advised 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left and Texas trailing by four. Confidence is great, but intelligence plays much better at money time in a hostile environment.
“At times it wasn’t as connected,” Coleman said. “It’s something we will watch film about and we’re going to learn from. At this time, we just can’t have that anymore. It happens every now and then in the game — it’s part of basketball; there is going to be that, and we have good players — but the formula is playing unselfish and defending at a Level Five.”
Credit Beard and Texas killer Mac McClung for answering every run, but the Horns had a great chance to steal one, despite playing disjointed, disconnected basketball for most of the way. They waited too late to get Sims going in the second half, and by the time he knocked down 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch, time was the real enemy.
Sims did face some double- and triple-team pressure late in the game, but he has shown an ability to pass effectively out of the post — his feed to a cutting Kai Jones for a first-half dunk was a great offensive highlight — but it is incumbent on Smart, Coleman and Co. to recognize when it’s time to chill out on the 3-pointers and go through the big guy they continue to underutilize.
The Horns are streaky, which will make them a dangerous opponent come tourney time, but that same streakiness opens them up to a potentially disastrous showing come the Big Dance, especially if they continue to ignore a legitimate scoring threat in the lane when the jumpers aren’t finding the bottom of the net.
It’s up to Shaka to rein in the gunners and strike the right balance between the perimeter shots and a post player who could really take the pressure off his guards.
Good things happen when Sims touches the ball.
Feed him more.