All the new players are great, but Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey still battling for Horns
After starting three games, Jones moves to sixth-man role: ‘It’s going to be hard to guard us all’
The new coach brought in all these new players as No. 8 Texas got all these new headlines with new expectations. New one-liners, too.
“It’s not going to be some kind of rainbows, pots of gold and free corndogs every night,” UT coach Chris Beard said. “But I think the guys’ hearts are in the right place. There's no doubt about it.”
So many new faces. Who’s going to start against Baylor? What’s the rotation look like against Kansas? Beard is still chewing on that, so to speak.
That new program smell is great and all. But it’s good to see some familiar faces still running smooth, too. Take Wednesday night’s 68-44 win over California Baptist, for example.
There was Andrew Jones slamming home a ball off a fast break and then dishing out a sick no-look pass for another score. Jase Febres got the starting nod and focused on defense. “That’s just what I’ve tried to embody this entire year,” Febres said the day before.
There’s Brock Cunningham getting five rebounds, scoring with his trademark Westlake pump fake and causing car crashes in the paint.
And there’s Courtney Ramey, hitting a 3-pointer, turnaround jumpers and fadeaways to score 12 points and cross the 1,000-point threshold for his UT career.
“I want to say welcome to the club, little bro,” Jones said of his longtime running buddy. “About time he got here. I think he’s adjusting well.”
The eighth-ranked Longhorns (4-1) smothered the previously undefeated Lancers (5-1). A team that came in averaging 80 points per game and shooting 50.2% overall was held well below those totals.
California Baptist shot 40.5% percent overall but went 2-for-16 from 3-point range primarily because UT’s Marcus Carr handcuffed Reed Nottage. The Lancers’ sophomore came in averaging a team-high 16 points but left the Erwin Center with only three — via three made free throws. Nottage was 0-for-3 shooting in 25 minutes.
Texas closed the first half on a 12-2 run and allowed only 16 points before the break. Midway through the second half, the Lancers were frustrated, picking up back-to-back offensive fouls and giving up second chance points on the other end.
The pre-Thanksgiving Day crowd of 10,878 — a nice turnout with fans sprinkled about the upper deck — really wanted to see Allen score on his reverse dunk with 4:47 left. A traveling call wiped that out, but maybe next time. The Horns led by 19 and were cruising.
“That was our best defensive game of the year,” Beard said. “Marcus was trying to do one thing tonight and that was win the game with defense.”
Texas also had 11 steals. It’s the fourth time in five games the Horns have put up double-digit steal totals. A quick check revealed UT hasn’t done anything remotely close to that over the last decade.
Carr had three steals, and so did Timmy Allen, who looked shot out of a cannon. Allen had four rebounds, two steals and two points in the first 4:59. He finished with 15 points, eight boards, three steals and three assists in 28 minutes.
So back to the original question. Beard’s starting five already looks different at Thanksgiving than it did when the season began earlier this month.
In the frontcourt, Tre Mitchell is now starting while Christian Bishop is coming off the bench. Jones started the first three games but opted for a sixth-man type of role the last two. The six-year veteran tallied 20 points collectively the first three games; Jones scored 28 combined against San Jose State and California Baptist.
“Coach and I had a heart-to-heart conversation about how I was playing,” Jones said. “As an offensive player, I’ve been playing against coach for years. He’s not worried about my offense. But was more worried about my contribution to the team and how I could be able to impact this game, not only on offense but defense as well.”
Beard said Jones is playing terrific defense, as evidence by his career high 2.3 steals per game through four games. “Obviously, that was an unselfish act,” Beard said. “And obviously, that’s a headline story. But we'll see how it materializes.”
So should Jones remain Texas’ sixth man? “He dreams about winning. I mean, period,” the coach said.
Should Mitchell stay in the starting lineup over Bishop? Mitchell had six points and just two rebounds in 19 minutes, a down night by his standards. Bishop had 12 points and five boards in 16 minutes.
Should Devin Askew get more time at guard? Should Jaylon Tyson get a little more run earlier in games?
There are no right or wrong answers at this point. Simply the discussion, the mixing and matching of personnel, is what’s intriguing.
“Those aren’t my decisions. It’s the players,” Beard said. “They’re the ones that practice every day. They’re the ones that work on their craft. They’re the ones that get game time, they produce and eventually get down to a deal where guys are earning their time.”
If Beard has harped on anything, it’s that everything matters — shooting, passing and defense in practice counts just as much as it does in the games.
“You know, that can change your role pretty quickly around here,” Beard said. “We value practice. We value production.”
What Beard and the Horns value most is winning, no matter the personnel configuration.
“I feel like as time goes on, as more guys start to draw a lot of attention,” Jones said, “it's going to be hard to guard us all.”