In perhaps its most complete game yet, No. 21 Texas locks up rival Oklahoma
Imagine being so tired of talking about aggressiveness with your team, you simply can’t stand the word itself anymore.
“If I had a thesaurus,” Texas coach Chris Beard said, “and I wanted another word for the word that we're all tired of using in the last 48 hours, that starts with an A and has two Gs, what would be another word?”
“Assertiveness,” Beard said Tuesday after No. 21 Texas asserted its will in a 66-52 victory over Oklahoma. “I thought tonight we played with a great assertiveness on both ends.”
The Longhorns (13-3, 3-1 Big 12) most certainly did. With a rowdy crowd of 13,144 inside the Erwin Center — the largest of the season — the Horns had 11 steals, forced 17 turnovers, blocked three shots and sent the Sooners (12-4, 2-2) packing.
Andrew Jones rang up a season-high 22 points, three shy of tying his career high, as three other Horns finished in double figures. Courtney Ramey, Timmy Allen and Christian Bishop all scored 10 points each as UT shot 46.8% overall.
Beard can talk about the challenges of Big 12 basketball until he’s blue in the face. But the players must experience the ups and downs themselves.
Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, when Texas let the opponent dictate terms, may have been a necessary wake-up call. If Beard’s tone the last two days didn’t get the Horns’ attention, scores from the around the league sure will.
“Everything about traveling the road and understanding the circumstances, each game is big, regardless of if we’re playing Incarnate Word or Kansas,” Jones said. “We need to bring our identity, let it show and be the most aggressive team. That’s it.
“We’re veterans,” Jones added. “We understand what the coach wants, and it just takes time for us to actually click and do it for 40 minutes.”
And in the it’s-a-miracle department, the Horns found their way to the free-throw line.
By being assertive, Texas got nine free-throw attempts in the first half. Feels like that is cause for celebration alone; Texas didn’t have a single free-throw attempt in the first half of the last two games. The Horns went 18-for-24 at the stripe all told.
“I can't blame the fouls,” OU coach Porter Moser said. “You know, that didn’t change the dynamic. I thought Texas changed the dynamic.”
This team had a different look. The way Dylan Disu went up for a grown-man layup early in the first half. Beard said it looked like an NBA-level move, “like I was watching the game on TNT or something.”
With the Horns looking inside, it opened things up outside. Jones followed Disu’s score with a 3-pointer on the right wing. Then, Bishop scored off a terrific pivot move in the lane and followed that with another impressive layup. This was offense with poise and purpose.
Jones hit two more free throws, and Texas had assembled an 11-0 run. This all happened as the Sooners went six minutes without scoring at all.
The Horns also put serious clamps on Tanner Groves, the Eastern Washington transfer who came into the game averaging 14.3 points. He managed only three points and took just one shot.
“You can tell by the turnovers we had, we got rushed,” Moser said. “So our answer to sometimes when they were denying us the entries is we put our head down and just over-dribbled into a mess.”
Twice the Sooners had their pockets picked clean. Ramey reached in and simply stole the ball from Bijan Cortes in the open floor. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Jones stole candy from Jordan Goldwire and went the other way for a dunk.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” OU’s Jalen Hill said. “We just can't have that many turnovers, plain and simple.”
Said Jones: “It's more about reading and anticipating. We were able to speed the other guards up early in the game. We noticed a tendency of jumping the pass, and we just used our instincts and timed it up well.”
Fortune favors the bold. With Texas being both aggressive and assertive, the Horns got the breaks. In the second half, Marcus Carr was in dire straits on a busted possession. Two Sooners nearly had a chance at an easy steal. Instead, Carr corralled the loose ball, fired off a 3-pointer and watched it splash through the net.
Devin Askew forced a turnover at the top of the key, and the Texas guard went weaving his way through traffic for a layup. That’s two consecutive games now where Askew flashed.
Texas pulled away with free throws. When Bishop went sliding across the floor and flipping a loose ball to Jones, the crowd launched into a full-throttle “OU sucks” chant. Jones stood in the corner waiving his arms, encouraging the fans for more.
“Thank you for cheering so hard for our team. We really appreciate it,” Beard said. “The guys are talking about it in the locker room, so they’re appreciative, too.”
Texas forward Tre Mitchell missed the Oklahoma State game due to COVID-19 protocols. He was cleared to return Tuesday morning but played just two minutes. “We hope to have him back full speed next game is what I’m hoping,” Beard said.
Guard Jase Febres also was held out with a left knee issue.
Beard may be tired of saying the word aggressiveness, but his team must keep playing that way. Next comes a weekend road trip to Iowa State. If the Horns keep playing like they did Tuesday, they can battle anyone who steps in their path.
“We knew we were going to have to play one of our best games, and I think that’s what we did,” Beard said. “Before I watch the film, I think we played really clean tonight.”