Zoned Out: UT Likely To Stick With Zone Against CU

Real men play zone. At least that's what Texas head coach <B>Rick Barnes</B> is telling his troops after switching from his customary man defense to some variant of the 2-3 zone in recent road wins over nationally-ranked Texas Tech and in-state rival Texas A&amp;M. Expect more of it Wednesday when Texas hosts Colorado and again Sunday against OU.

"We're playing man defense every bit as good as we had been," Barnes said. "There's not just one way we're playing the zone. We played it differently at Tech then we did at A&M. And we'll talk about how we're going to use it against Colorado. It varies from game to game."

There may be some variance, but the recent results have been consistent: a pair of come-from-behind road wins. The Horns trailed by as many 10 second-half points before getting in the zone and coming back for an OT win at Lubbock last Monday. On Saturday, Texas switched from its half-court press to a 2-3 zone after Texas A&M built a 48-43 lead with just under 12 minutes to play. The Horns then went on a 20-1 run to knock off the Aggies for the 20th time in the past 21 meetings.

For those who only speak football, a basketball zone is similar in that a player is assigned to defend a particular area of the court rather than a particular man. The zone can be particularly effective in clogging the driving lanes against teams that typically shoot poorly from beyond the arc. Both Texas Tech and Texas A&M rank near the bottom of Big 12 teams from three-point range, and the Aggies converted just 6-of-21 from beyond the arc against the Horns. The zone can be good for a team like the 2003-04 Longhorns that has a stockpile of big guys but not the flashy, undersized guards that it has had in the past.

The flipside is that teams that rely on the zone are likely to concede the battle for the boards as well as wear the label of, well, sissies. But Barnes is able to counter with snarling post players like centers James Thomas and Jason Klotz, as well as allowing him to move 6-5 freshman P.J. Tucker from the power forward to the small forward position.

"Jason Klotz is very good in the middle of it," Barnes said. "It lets us put James Thomas and (sophomore F) Brad Buckman on the wing, and then throw P.J. back there like we did at Tech. He's got that seven-foot wing span. (Guards) Sydmill Harris and Kenton Paulino are getting more comfortable with (zone defense). Roy (Royal Ivey) is very comfortable playing zone. He sets the tone for it. He plays around with people. That's good because once he starts doing that, it gives the other guys more confidence to start doing it, too."

The Horns face a Colorado program, 7 p.m. (CST, ESPN2) in Austin Wednesday, that is typically middle-of-the-pack but manages to spring the upset each season against an unsuspecting team. It happened both to Kansas and Texas last year as the Buffaloes beat the No. 3 Longhorns, 93-80, in Boulder. Colorado scored the final 13 points of a contest that was deadlocked with two minutes remaining. It was Barnes' first setback to CU in seven outings, but the memory lingers.

"You're always worried when you're talking about a team that is about as explosive as a team can be," Barnes said. "This morning I watched the tape from a year ago. They really hurt us on the boards last year. They made some unbelievable shots. You have to give them credit. They went out and got 'em."

The Buffaloes (12-6, 4-3 Big 12) are starting to peak, Barnes believes.

"They seem to be coming into their own right time," Barnes said. "Our players have a lot of respect for them because they made some great plays against us up there. I'm looking at last year's tape and wondering how you guard them. They made some incredible shots from the three (point range). I wonder how you can guard them any better."

With zone defense, maybe?

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