When you lose by 21 points, it's hard to take much comfort in your effort. Still, Texas Tech's 79-58 loss to No. 2 Arizona in Tucson was not a complete disaster.
Generally speaking, and with the exception of the beginning of the game and the start of the second half, the Red Raiders competed well against what may be the best team in the country on their home court. Clearly, Tech began the game tentatively and tight on the offensive end. Playing a great opponent on the road rattled the Red Raiders. Players were afraid of making mistakes, and when given golden opportunities to score, missed easy shots (a frequent problem for this team). Tech began the game 0-for-5, and nearing the 16:00 minute mark, trailed 10-0. Improbably enough, a Kader Tapsoba dunk got Tech on the scoreboard.
But once the Red Raiders found some offensive success, they played quite well for the remainder of the half and trailed by a respectable 10 points at the halftime break. Tech's man defense, in particular, was superb at times. The Red Raiders defended very hard indeed, and for much of the first half, played their best defense of the season.
Tubby Smith didn't show the zone until the 8:00 minute mark, and it was effective for a while, even though it compounded Tech's grievous rebounding difficulties. Unfortunately, Smith fell in love with the zone and stuck with it for a few too many possessions. The Cats made Tech pay by torching it from beyond the arc.
It was the first four minutes of the second half, however, that really did in the Red Raiders. Trailing by only 10 points, this game was still winnable if Tech kept its composure and played with focus for the next 20 minutes. Alas, the Red Raiders blew the gaffe immediately.
During that first four minutes the Red Raiders turned the ball over three times, missed two shots, and connected on only one. The Wildcats, on the other hand, had only one turnover and reeled off 10 points, doubling their halftime bulge. The Red Raiders were on ice at that point.
To their credit, however, Tech battled the whole way through. They Red Raiders easily could have collapsed, in which case Arizona would have won by close to 40, and the Wildcat subs would have played the final eight minutes of the game. As it was, Tech forced AU coach Sean Miller to play his regular rotation throughout.
A major problem for Tech was that their starters accounted for only 21 points. Arizona's Aaron Gordon accounted for 19 all by himself. Jaye Crockett, who scored 11 points, was the only Tech starter in double figures. Jordan Tolbert did exactly what Tech could not afford, and that was to get into foul trouble. He scored four points. Dusty Hannahs continued to be completely ineffective. He failed to scratch, and is providing Tech with zero firepower from outside. Considering that is his job, one wonders how much longer the Hannahs experiment will continue.
But there were real positives from the bench. Kader Tapsoba was Tech's MVP in this game. Amazingly, he was the mentally toughest Red Raider on the court. He knocked down shots, knocked down free throws, played physically, altered shots, and committed only one turnover.
Randy Onwuasor continues to make a case for being in the starting lineup. He's not yet an elite ball handler, but is physical and aggressive, and shows the ability to score. Much the same could be said for Aaron Ross. You can see him blossom with each and every game. We all knew he had a nice touch, but against the Wildcats, he put the ball on the floor and took it to the rack with authority. Ross can create his own shot.
And that was really the extent of Tech's offense against Arizona. Very few buckets came within the flow of set plays. Instead, the Red Raiders relied on Ross, Crockett and Onwuasor to create in one-on-one situations. Arizona, on the other hand, consistently scored within the context of their halfcourt sets.
Another huge Arizona advantage was quickness to the ball. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle by 20, but that victory was less a function of size and strength than it was a result of Arizona's ability to beat Tech to loose balls and to latch onto them. The Wildcats anticipated better, and they had better hands.
Still, and despite the 21-point setback, it is clear that Tubby Smith has pieces with which to work. Jaye Crockett is good enough to compete with anybody, and if Kader Tapsoba, Randy Onwuasor and Aaron Ross continue to develop, the Red Raiders will be a very tough team in February.
Slow Starts Demolish Tech's Upset Dreams
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