Column: Texas Handles Missouri

The saying goes that over the course of a six-game NCAA Tournament, a team is bound to have a bad game in at least one of the contests. A team's ability to make it through said game is often a major factor in whether a title contender gets a chance to cut down the nets at the end of the year.

Saturday night, against No. 11 Missouri, Texas showed exactly why it is arguably the nation's most dangerous team heading into March Madness: an ability to play through an off night.

In the Longhorns' 71-58 victory, Texas overcame a dismal shooting night from the free throw line — 16-for-34 — by out-toughing the Tigers, beating Missouri to every loose ball and winning seemingly every big rebound. That physicality allowed the Longhorns to race to an 11-0 early lead, and to keep the Tigers at arm's length for the entire second half.

Keep in mind: this wasn't a bad team that Texas did this to. Missouri is, at the least at this point, a top-20 team. And they were brained in by a physical squad that has built its mettle throughout the season. Texas forward Gary Johnson told SI.com after the game that the Longhorns felt exposed by how physically Pitt played and were told by a USC player that their scouting report indicated that the Longhorns were soft.

Saturday night, the Longhorns were anything but. When they missed shots, they powered to the rim to grab 14 offensive rebounds. The physicality was demonstrated through the whole roster. All three starting forwards — Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton — grabbed at least nine rebounds, with each player grabbing four offensive boards. Those same players held Missouri post starters Ricardo Ratliffe and Justin Safford to 5-19 from the field.

The backcourt did its part as well. Freshman Cory Joseph held Marcus Denmon, one of the country's most efficient offensive players, to seven points on 3-9 shooting in 31 minutes. Dogus Balbay applied similar pressure to Michael Dixon, who shot 1-5. Even backup guard J'Covan Brown got into the act, often using his body to push out the pressure of smaller Missouri guards like Dixon and Phil Pressey.

Hamilton finished with what Barnes called his best game as a Longhorn, filling the stat sheet with 16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. Gary Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. And Tristan Thompson scored nine points and 13 rebounds. Thompson's nine points weren't indicative of how he played, however, as his scoring was limited by his 3-9 night from the free-throw line. Johnson was 5-12.

And so the Longhorns showed exactly what a team with tournament run aspirations must: that when the bad game hits, a team can generate the toughness to withstand those issues. There is still a large portion (12 games) of the Big 12 season left before the conference tournament. And yet these Longhorns appear to be peaking at just the right time. Texas coach Rick Barnes has said there's still room to grow there, especially offensively.

So when looking across the country for teams capable of making noise this March, don't forget a stop off in Austin.


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