The Cowboys (17-10 overall) are alone in sixth place in the Big 12 with a 7-8 league record, half a game in front of Kansas State. Texas Tech is 12-17 overall and 2-14 in Big 12 play, but both of the Red Raiders’ conference wins have come at home, and Tubby Smith’s squad could have easily upset No. 16 Oklahoma last weekend before losing 79-75 in overtime.
OSU was riding high just a few weeks ago after defeating three nationally ranked teams in a row during the regular season for the first time in school history. But since then the Cowboys have lost at TCU and back-to-back home games to No. 14 Iowa State and No. 23 West Virginia.
Ford says it was time to give his players a break, especially Phil Forte, who is averaging more minutes than any other Big 12 player. The 5-11 guard is playing 33.93 minutes a game (see the chart below) and teammate Le’Bryan Nash is averaging 31.42 minutes (eighth most in the conference).
Forte says being away from the gym Sunday and Monday was the first time he can ever remember taking two days off during a season.
“I didn’t do anything … didn’t shoot. Nothing,” he said.
“I just needed to try to get away from everything for a little bit and just really rest my body and take advantage of this bye week. That’s really the main thing,” said Forte, who played 34 or more minutes in 13 of the Cowboys’ 15 conference games. “I had a couple extra days so I might as well try to rest my body. We have three big games coming up and the Big 12 Tournament so I just want to make sure my body is mentally and physically ready to endure the rest of these couple of weeks.”
Forte admits the season is beginning to take its toll.
“I will say that I may get a little more tired (than the past two seasons) but I’m playing more minutes than last year. The way I was getting guarded was different last year, it came a little easier with the talent we had last year. I think this bye week was the perfect timing for me, and the team especially, to regroup.”
His head coach agrees.
“Yeah, I thought it was good for him to do that,” Ford said. “Again, I thought it was good for everybody to just get away and hopefully recharge.
“You know he’s tough and that’s what we’ve needed him to do. He prepares himself for that conditioning-wise. It’s important that he gets his rest and he took some days off, but there are a lot of players playing a lot of minutes. Whatever you need to do for your team, I know he’s going to do it.”
Ford says that includes getting more than three shots from the field. West Virginia held the Big 12’s third-leading scorer to just three shots in the Mountaineers 73-63 victory over the Cowboys last Saturday. It was the fewest shots Forte had taken in 50 games, dating back to Dec. 14, 2013.
“We need more than that from him,” he said. “But he did shoot nine or 10 free throws or whatever it was, and that’s about three or four more shots. But there’s no question that he needs more than three shots.”
Forte says, “Obviously losing Markel [Brown] and those guys, your role is going to change. My role is different, and what I’m expected to do this year is different than last year.”
Like West Virginia, other Big 12 teams are also being trying to make it difficult for the 185-pound Forte to get his shots. He has actually attempted more free throws (75) than three-pointers (74) in the Cowboys’ 15 conference games.
“Teams will be playing me really physical, and maybe getting to the free-throw line, and looking to drive and when the help defender comes look to pass some times. Sometimes I try to force things that aren’t there. I need to take what the defense gives me, and just try to let the game come to me. Sometimes it’s not easy but it’s a team game and I just need to try to do what I can to help my team win.”
But after playing in the shadows of Smart and Brown the past two seasons he realizes that more is expected of him this year.
“I agree sometimes (I try to do too much), but I have to realize we have talent on this team too. We have guys that are capable of making plays,” Forte said. “It is different. I’m trying to adjust. I’ve tried to be denied before but not like this. When you play with Marcus your whole life (teams) really can’t do that. But I’m trying to learn too. I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Each game I’m trying to learn because I know this is not the last of this.”
## Player-Team Cl G Minutes Avg/G
1.Forte, Phil-OSU.......... JR 27 916 33.93
2.Morris, Monte-ISU........ SO 27 900 33.33
3.Mason III, Frank-KU...... SO 28 927 33.11
4.Chery, Kenny-BU.......... SR 23 733 31.87
5.Anderson, Kyan-TCU....... SR 28 886 31.64
6.Woodard, Jordan-OU....... SO 27 853 31.59
7.Hield, Buddy-OU.......... JR 27 852 31.56
8.Nash, Le'Bryan-OSU....... SR 26 817 31.42
9.Spangler, Ryan-OU........ JR 27 843 31.22
O'Neale, Royce-BU........ SR 27 843 31.22