Texas converted a season-best 73.3 percent (11-of-15) from the beyond the arc against Princeton, a new school record for three-point percentage in a NCAA Tournament game (the previous mark was 52.9 percent, or 9-of-17, set in 1990 against Arkansas). It also marked the ninth-best team single-game 3-point percentage in NCAA Tournament history.
Texas then found the driving lanes less congested against North Carolina, tallying 36 points in the paint. Barnes wanted to work the ball inside with his depth at the post position, frustrating C Sean May while sending his guys to the charity stripe. Texas' 83 percent free throw shooting (19-of-23) tied the season-high set in wins against Kansas and Wake Forest.
"Coach did a good job of us playing inside-out, going down low to one of the big guys near the bucket, getting some backdoor cuts and getting some easy looks at the basket," C Jason Klotz said of Texas' success last weekend in Denver. "Any time you take a contested shot, it's hard to score that way. We started moving on offense and taking some good shots. Instead of taking bad shots and not giving us a chance to get rebounds, we were getting more from the ball screens where we know we're going to get a good look at the basket. If you go inside out, you can throw it down to me. If the (defenders) collapse, I can throw it out and you can get a good look at the three-ball."
Texas found its shooters touch against the Tar Heels, knocking down 60 percent of its shots in the first half and finishing at 49.1 percent (27-of-55 FG). Barnes so emphasized working the ball into the low post during the Big 12 Tournament that players either were too tentative to take an outside shot or would force a shot during tight ballgames. The result was extended scoring droughts in all three Big 12 Tournament contests in Dallas, plus an extensive offensive lapse in the first half against Princeton.
"I think it was guys not knowing what we were trying to get out of our offensive sets," Klotz said.
Klotz suffered his worst outing of the season in the Princeton game, going 0-for-6 from the field and committing four turnovers.
"Honestly, the altitude got to me," Klotz said. "I had been a little sick and it really affected my body. I couldn't be as physical as I wanted. In the second game, I guess I got used to it. I came out and played harder, and attacked. I got down on myself in the Princeton game when I missed a couple of shots. I lost focus and it really hurt. The next game I came out and said, 'I'm ready to play. I'm not going to let anything affect me. I'm not going to worry about the altitude.' I came out, and I thought I played a decent game."
More than decent: the junior registered 10 points (5-of-7 FG) and five boards in 25 minutes against the Tar Heels. In fact, Klotz has been such a go-to post player in Texas' five Tournament contests this season (10.4 ppg, 52.5 FG%) that his emergence has reduced C James Thomas to cameo appearances. The senior has been beset by a back injury; the surprise emergence of both Klotz and freshman F P.J. Tucker have also factored into limiting Thomas' production to approximately half of what it was last year.
"Probably the hardest thing (all season) is the thing that happened to James and not being able to get back to where he wants to be." Barnes said, "but I admire him for the way he's hung in there. Obviously, Brad (Buckman) really struggled but I admire him, too, for the way he's fought back. But those two guys have had to embrace Jason and P.J."
Buckman's injury had more to do with a bruised psyche than a banged-up back. The sophomore was pulled from the starting lineup in mid-February after watching his FG percentage fall from a team-best as a freshman to the lowest among all scholarship players this season. Buckman was an absolute workhorse in the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four last season; he applied the same work ethic to practice sessions following his demotion.
"I basically took each practice on as if they were games," Buckman said. "I figured if I played harder in practice, I would play harder in games. You always get told that when you're a kid. Basically, I just took that on.'
Barnes took note and, according to Buckman, said, "If you play this hard in practice and in games, you'll be starting." Indeed, Buckman regained his spot in the starting rotation in the Big 12 Tournament. He hasn't lost in since.
"I'm feeling more comfortable with myself right now," Buckman said. "This is a time when everybody needs to be in the game. I think I'm just putting everything inside and just playing the game like I always have."
Tucker is a gamer and defies labeling. Even though he is a forward, he is Texas' best ball-handler. Even though he is just 6-5, he can play power forward but is finding his home on the perimeter. It's been a learning curve for the freshman, particularly in how to fight through screens to get to the outside, playing the No. 3 spot for the first time ever.
"P.J. Tucker came in and was more of a factor than we could ever imagine," Barnes said. "I like his demeanor and his composure. More than anything, he's got it. He knows what it's about in terms of competing at this level. His best days are ahead of him."
Ideally, the same is true for the rest of the Longhorns -- both inside and out.
[In Austin for the Texas-Xavier game? If so, join Inside Texas at Lavaca Street Bar in the Warehouse District for a Sweet Sixteen watch party Friday night. Click here for more details.]