Hoops: Lowly KSU Exposes No. 10 Texas, 58-48

The final week of the regular season is a time when college basketball teams ideally begin to peak, make strong arguments for higher NCAA seeds and gather momentum for post-season play. In dropping back-to-back games for the first time all season, Texas' 58-48 setback at Kansas State Saturday exposed nearly every fault that <B>Rick Barnes' </B>otherwise solid and highly-ranked squad has had all year.

Already assured of a first-round bye and No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Conference Tournament (March 11-14 in Dallas), Texas drops to 21-6 on the season, 12-4 in league play. The Wildcats finish the regular season at 14-13, 6-10 in Big 12, and can only hope that their biggest win of the year can carry the struggling program all the way to the NIT.

It didn't help that Longhorn starting point guard Kenton Paulino was sidelined with a hamstring injury while senior G Royal Ivey tried to pick up the slack. But that's not what has cost Texas during the past six days, nor at other times during what has still been a noteworthy regular season.

Texas has been hurt by inconsistent inside play. It's a common perception that Texas has failed to work the ball inside during the post-T.J. Ford era when, instead, Texas' front court has struggled mightily with point-blank four-footers. The one play in Saturday's loss that crystallizes the problem was when otherwise reliable C Jason Klotz missed a lay-up at the 2:00 mark and Texas trailing, 46-45. From that point, Texas started fouling and jacking up threes. The guards have, for the most part, worked the ball inside but senior C James Thomas and sophomore F Brad Buckman's offensive production has fallen off considerably. Buckman has gone from leading his team in FG percentage as a freshman to No. 11 this year.

Overall, it's enough to make you wonder: who is Texas' lay-up coach?

Throw a 2-3 zone at Texas and you'll see a team that, more often than Barnes would like, will pass the ball around the perimeter and settle for the easy three. When the shots are falling, look out! But it results in Texas not getting to the free throw line near enough. In the past two games, opponents have been to the line 54 times compared to just 25 for Texas. You can only blame the refs up to a point. When your foe is taking twice as many FT attempts, you can't lay that one entirely at the feet of the zebras.

Texas leads the Big 12 in rebounding but lost the battle of the boards Saturday (42-32) as well in both losses to Oklahoma State. Thomas has got to show why he is Texas' all-time leading rebounder when the Tournament begins in a matter of days.

For all the good Barnes has done to elevate this program (and, for my money, he remains DeLoss Dodds' best hire in 25 years), his teams are typically a mid-level conference team in terms of FG accuracy. Texas shot just 30 percent (15-of-54) from the field Saturday. Although KSU shot just 34 percent, the 'Cats were good on 54 percent of their shots following the break after connecting on an abysmal 19 percent during the first 20 minutes.

The 48 points is a season low for Texas. For the second game in a row, none of Texas' quartet of celebrated seniors scored in double figures. Texas' three-point specialists paced the team. Junior G Kenny Taylor finished with team-high 11 points, followed by G Sydmill Harris' 10 points.

Texas led 22-17 at intermission after both teams shot poorly but KSU controlling the offensive glass, 10-2. But the 'Cats kept Texas at bay with a pair of second half runs. Senior G Tim Ellis' trey completed a 7-0 Wildcat run to open the second half as K-State took a 24-22 lead. Thomas temporarily silenced the KSU crowd with his slam jam on a feed from Ivey, followed by Klotz's jumper. Texas led 26-24, but found it tough to work the ball inside against the Wildcat zone. Harris' three-ball upped the Texas lead, 31-26, before the home team reclaimed the lead with an 8-0 run.

Barnes is 4-2 against the Wildcats but Texas has dropped two-in-a-row in Manhattan. KSU won the last meeting on their home court, 71-70.

Hopefully, this is a wake-up call for the Horns. It does however, make the Big 12 Tournament at the American Airlines Center more interesting. If Texas pulls a one-and-done like last season, it could fall to a No. 4 seed or worse by entering the NCAA's on a three-game skid. A win, or two, or better yet, a first-ever league tourney championship, should nail a No. 3 seed when selections are announced on March 14.

Texas will tip-off at approximately 6 p.m. (CST) Friday in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas. The Horns will face the winner of Thursday's match-up between No. 7 seed Oklahoma and No. 10 seed Nebraska.

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