January 31, 2009

The BIG Review: K-State shocks UT at home

Get ready for some changes.

After watching his team come back from a 17-point deficit with 7:56 left in the game to force overtime before losing, 85-81, at home against Kansas State, Rick Barnes said he's ready to shake things up.

Don't be surprised if Connor Atchley's minutes are greatly reduced. More on that in a second.

There are a multitude of reasons Texas saw its 19-game home win streak and school-record 14-game home win streak against Big 12 teams come to an end Saturday afternoon. For starters, K-State guard Denis Clemente, who transferred to K-State last season from Frank Haith's Miami team, did his best impersonation of Chris Paul.

How about Clemente's line: 13-of-25 shooting, including 6-of-6 from 3-point range and 12-of-12 from the free throw line for 44 points. That ties Michael Beasley's Big 12 record for points and was the best performance EVER against Texas in the Erwin Center.

"That's as good as anyone we've played against," Barnes said. "Ever."

Other reasons Texas lost this game: Poor free throw shooting (Texas was 3-of-8 from the foul line in overtime), poor shooting period (Texas missed its first five shots in overtime) and continued inconsistency at the point guard position.

"Obviously, you watch them on tape and you see they are a little inconsistent offensively," said K-State coach Frank Martin, whose team opened 0-4 in Big 12 play and is now 3-4. "Their youth at the point guard spot is what we tried to identify. The inexperience of the point guard play benefited us, but then (Justin) Mason just played his tail off in the second half. He dribble-drove us and manhandled us."

A.J. Abrams, despite setting the Big 12 record for most career 3-pointers made (342), finished 5-of-21 from the floor and 4-of-14 from 3-point range. Barnes said Abrams needs to take better shots and to drive the ball, especially against a team like K-State that was playing pressure defense most of the afternoon.

"The easiest way to get a pressure defense off of you is to drive to the basket," Barnes said. "Draw fouls. We need A.J. to do more of that."

(On top of everything else Clemente did for K-State, he guarded Abrams most of the game and made him take rushed shots.)

Damion James and Gary Johnson combined to shoot 10-of-23 but also combined to turn the ball over seven times. Texas finished with a season-high 20 turnovers.

"They were slapping the ball right out of our hands," Barnes said.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

It's inside the numbers you realize that time may be running out for Atchley to prove he can help this team. He is a fifth-year player, and yet he's playing like last season never happened.

Remember last season? When Atchley averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, led the Big 12 in blocks and led Texas in 3-point shooting percentage (.413).

Right now, Atchley is averaging 5.3 ppg, 3.45 rpg and 1.65 bpg. He is shooting 39.5 percent after hitting 53.8 percent last season. He's hitting only 28.6 percent from 3.

Atchley finished the game 0-of-2 from the floor. He missed a 3-pointer two minutes into the game and then didn't attempt another shot until he missed a 3-pointer with two seconds to play and Texas trailing, 85-81.

Let me repeat, he's a fifth-year player. He also happens to be costing himself a fortune. NBA scouts were genuinely high on Atchley after last season.

It's not Atchley's lack of offense that's killing Texas - although that's a big part of it. It's his lack of confidence and aggressiveness. The most pivotal play of the game may have come with K-State big man Ron Anderson at the line with 11.3 seconds left in overtime and the Wildcats leading, 82-80.

Anderson missed both free throws, but Atchley allowed K-State guard Fred Brown to knock the rebound loose from his hands. The ball ended up in the hands of K-State's Jamar Samuels, and Damion James was forced to foul Samuels with 9.3 ticks on the clock.

James was so disgusted with Atchley that he stared at him for a good three seconds after the play.

Atchley's play doesn't measure up to the minutes he's getting. His line: 0-2 shooting, 1-2 at the foul line, three rebounds, 1 point, two blocks in 21 minutes. Contrast that with Dexter Pittman's line in this game: 4-of-5 shooting, 0-of-1 from the foul line, six rebounds, eight points and three turnovers in 15 minutes of play. You don't like the turnovers by Pittman, but at least he was aggressive. Three of his four shots were dunks.

STAR OF THE GAME

There was no star of the game, but Justin Mason came closest. Without his aggressiveness in this contest, Texas would have lost by 20. Mason finished with nine assists (and four turnovers) and repeatedly drove to the basket at crunch time. Trailing 73-69, Mason converted a 3-point play to pull Texas within 73-72 with 21.8 seconds left in regulation.

Then, he came up with the play of the game for Texas, splitting a double team with a floor-shaking jump step for a driving basket with 9.2 seconds left to help force overtime at 74-74.

UNSUNG HERO

Again, there was no unsung hero in this game, because Texas lost. But Varez Ward showed he is the real deal as a defender. After Mason and Abrams tried to stay in front of Clemente - to no avail - Ward helped slow Clemente long enough for Texas to erase the 17-point deficit and force overtime.

"Varez is the best on-the-ball defender we've had in a long time," Barnes said. "He's got great feet."

Even Clemente took note: "He's good, strong. He made it tough late."

Ward has to be more aggressive on the offensive end and drive it to the goal. He finished 2-of-4 shooting and 5-of-7 from the foul line for nine points with four rebounds in 24 minutes.

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

The whole team gets this one. Players should have been aggressive from the jump. Instead, K-State took it to 'em from the very beginning. Mason, Ward, Abrams and Balbay should have been driving the ball to the basket all game. It didn't happen. Instead, Texas reverted to a jump-shooting team for long stretches of the first half, when UT shot just 32 percent (8 of 25).

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Bronze -
A.J. Abrams' one drive to the basket in this game ended up being a 3-point play with 5:31 left in regulation and was part of a 12-2 run that helped Texas chop down a 17-point deficit. Abrams needs to do more of this. It brought back memories of D.J. Augustin.

Silver - Justin Mason's heroic 3-point play with 21.8 ticks left in regulation to pull Texas within 73-72.

Gold - Mason's drive to the basket with 9.2 seconds left to tie the game at 74 and force overtime.

SAY WHAT?

Denis Clemente of Kansas State said Justin Mason told him during the first half that Mason was tired because Clemente was pushing the ball so hard. Mason didn't recall saying that.

"At the free throw line in the first half, Mason came to me and said, 'I'm tired. You're pushing the ball too fast,'" Clemente said. "I lied and said, 'I'm tired too.'"

Responded Mason, "I'm not sure if that's true or not. I don't remember saying anything in the game. But he's a great player. He pushed the ball and kept pressure on us. I think both teams were probably tired at the end."


LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks in the K-State game:

Dexter Pittman - 3
Damion James - 2
Varez Ward - 1

Dunks for the season:

Damion James - 31
Dexter Pittman - 23
Gary Johnson - 6
Justin Mason - 6
Connor Atchley - 5
Clint Chapman - 4
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1


THE BIG NUMBER

22.8 percent (8-of-35)


This is was the shooting percentage of the rest of the Kansas State team outside of Denis Clemente (44 points) and Fred Brown (13 points). Texas had two players to stop and couldn't.


IN THEIR OWN WORDS

RICK BARNES:

On the loss:


"It's a disappointing loss, a hard loss, a bad loss. But you also have to give credit to Kansas State. Denis Clemente was as good as we've played against. Whenever they needed a big shot, he came up with it. For us, it's more of the same things we've been talking about - shot selection. But Kansas State came in and shot it well, just like they did against Missouri."

"If you would have told me they would hit 6-of-7 3s in the second half, I wouldn't have thought we'd go to overtime."

"We haven't been guarded in a month of Sundays. People have been backing off and letting us shoot. But we play defense that way too."

On the team's inconsistency:
"That's what's most disappointing to me. We haven't had the carryover, the consistency. Our guys have to play up to their minutes."

"I told the team we don't have a God-given right to show up and think we can win basketball games. That's toughness and getting yourselves ready to play."

On a season-high 20 turnovers:

"The turnovers - just knocking the ball out of our hands. That last free throw blockout was a huge play. That was a guard that came up with the ball. It's not just one guy who has to think we have to get the ball, it's all our guys. When they needed something big, they came up with it."

On Varez Ward's defense against Clemente late in the game:

"Varez (Ward) is a good defender. He's got great feet. He just needs to settle down on offense. Four turnovers for a guy who's handling the ball a lot is not what you need. I think Justin showed he is on his way back."

On players living up to their minutes:

"Connor (Atchley) has struggled for a long time. People are coming after A.J. like never before. He's never been the guy who everyone game-planned for. We want him to be aggressive, but shot selection is important. We probably didn't need some of those shots. But we just have to think out there."


A.J. ABRAMS (15 points on 5-of-21 shooting, including 4-of-14 from 3-point range):

"It's a big loss for us right now. I think we can learn from what we did right now. But looking at it right now, it's a big loss for us and we're going to have to make it up somewhere."

On Denis Clemente:

"We knew he was a good player, but you don't expect a guy to drop 44 on you. He just had a good shooting night.

On the team's intensity to start the game:

"At the first of the game, we didn't show the intensity we showed in the second half. We just have to be more aggressive to start. "


JUSTIN MASON (12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with 4 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 turnovers):

"I'm proud of the guys for sticking in there. We were down a big margin, and I was just trying to do whatever I could to help make that big comeback."


DAMION JAMES (19 points on 6-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds):

On giving up a big 3-pointer to K-State's Fred Brown with 18.6 seconds left in overtime with just three seconds left on the shot clock, putting K-State up 82-79:


"I was just trying to keep him in front of me. He raised up, I jumped up to contest it, but he hit it. We have to move on. Conference is just beginning. We have a big game coming up against Missouri (on Wednesday)."

On if Texas took K-State lightly:
"To be honest, the last few days we've had a couple practices. I don't think we took them lightly. They just threw the first punch and had us on our heels the rest of the game."

On Texas' need to get on a roll:,

"That's what we're going to do. I look at last year. We took two losses and still were able to do what we did. This might be the game that it took to put it in our face that we have to step our game up. North Carolina took a loss to Boston College at home, too. It happens. We just have to move on."

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