Sluggish Horns Hold Off UTA: Wake Forest Next

Maybe it was the four days Texas had off for final exams. Probably had more to do with the listless play from its guards. Hopefully, Texas' ho-hum 85-70 win over Texas-Arlington in Austin Tuesday was a 'Wake' up call. Texas travels to No. 6 Wake Forest Saturday in what coach Rick Barnes called "the first real road test" of the season.

First, Barnes called Tuesday's sluggish affair for what it was: a contest where Texas got no help from its perimeter players but got solid play from front court players. Guards Kenny Taylor and Daniel Gibson combined for 2-of-14 from the field while collecting four personals apiece.

"I don't think we got very good play from our guards," Barnes said. "When your perimeter players don't play well, you don't look very good. I don't mean just shooting the ball but the energy that they needed on both ends of the floor. We just went through the motions. I thought we played as if any time we wanted to move the score up, we could. And it's not about that. It's about execution."

The mental mistakes nearly made Barnes mental, as he listed the litany of miscues:

"Kenny started the game and he had a wide-open three and (three-point shooting) is what he does best. Instead of taking the three, he put the ball on the court, took a couple of steps and got his shot blocked. The second half, it was the same thing. He had a wide-open three. I don't care if he's missed nine in a row. That's his job. Our guys expect him to shoot it. (Small forward) P.J. (Tucker) dribbles the ball down on our fast break and he dribbled right into the corner. That's what guys do in the third grade. If you go to the corner, you're going to get trapped. They just played like that. It was mental mistakes like, at the end of the game, we weren't making hard cuts and not doing anything that resembles what we better become."

What Texas "better become" by Saturday, for instance, if it hopes to match last year's upset of the Demon Deacons. The Horns knocked off No. 4 Wake Forest 94-81 in Austin last season in what was probably the team's best effort of 2003-04. Wednesday's contest, however, was easily Texas' poorest of the young season.

"Maybe it (UTA) is not as big of a game as Wake but we have to come out with the same intensity," C Jason Klotz said. "(Barnes) wasn't pleased with our effort."

Klotz registered 14 points (7-of-11 FG) and is the only Longhorn to reach double figures in all eight games this year. But Klotz added just four points in a maddening second period when the Horns saw their FG percentage drop from nearly 56 percent (20-of-36) to just more than 36 percent (11-of-30, including 1-of-8 from three-point range). The Horns shot 47 percent for the evening while holding the Mavericks to 38 percent (23-of-60) from the floor. Texas committed 13 turnovers. It was also a rare occasion where the visitor's bench outscored Texas', 33-32.

Junior Brad Buckman continued his upward swing with 13 points (5-of-8 FG), three steals and one block. Tucker tallied his second double-double of the season in leading his team with 17 points (6-of-14 FG) and 10 rebounds. He added four steals and two assists. Still, Barnes said Tucker was "sloppy with the ball" (three turnovers) and "made bad decisions."

F LaMarcus Aldridge added 14 points (3-of-6 FG, 8-of-11 FT), representing a career best. He also added a personal-best three blocked shots. The freshman was one of the few to escape Barnes' doghouse.

"I thought LaMarcus was terrific," Barnes said. "He altered a lot of shots tonight. I think the biggest thing he did was he put a foul on every one of their post players."

UTA junior G Jarrett Howell led all scorers with 24 points (7-of-11 FG) but did not start because he was late for the team's 5:30 p.m. departure for the Erwin Center.

You knew what kind of night it was going to be when Texas missed its first four shots, within a span of seven seconds, at point-blank range. Buckman finally answered with a trey to make it a 3-2 ball game. The Horns took a 13-5 lead following Gibson's alley-oop lob to freshman F Mike Williams. Freshman G Rodrick Epps shot from beyond the arc, followed by Howell's traditional three-point play, trimmed the Longhorn lead to 13-11. Senior C Jason Klotz got on the scoreboard with his turnaround jumper followed by Taylor's layup. But Taylor took a seat when he was whistled for his third personal with 10:07 remaining until half time.

Aldridge gave Texas a double-digit lead, 27-17, drawing the foul on the putback, as part of a 14-2 run. Senior G Sydmill Harris' trey made it a 37-19 contest. Tucker's driving layup and foul shot gave Texas a 41-21 cushion with 3:38 remaining. Kenton Paulino's trey made it 46-23. Paulino was 3-of-4 from the floor. During the first half, the visitors had no answer for Klotz's turnaround jumpers. The senior center nailed another just inside the circle as time expired to spot Texas a 52-29 halftime advantage.

It was the most first-half points the Horns have posted this season. Texas played the second period as if it was resting on its laurels.

"Paulino was the best perimeter player we had in first half," Barnes said. "In the second half, I'm not sure any of them were any good."

Aldridge's bucket on the feed from Gibson gave Texas its largest lead of the game at 56-31 with just 56 seconds elapsed in the final frame. But the Mavericks answered with a 12-2 run capped by Howell's back-to-back three-point plays. Both Paulino and Buckman missed a pair of FTs during the stretch where the visitors chipped away at the Longhorn lead, 60-45. Klotz answered with a bank shot but UTA would not go away. With Taylor benched with his fourth foul, Gibson was whistled for his fourth personal as Steven Thomas laid it in. Tucker quickly circled his troops and yelled "Focus!" before Thomas' freebie narrowed the margin, 65-52.

Following Aldridge's layup, Tucker went to work. The sophomore scored on a putback, a pair of free throws and then on a monster dunk that roused the 6,617 in attendance from their long, winter's nap. Tucker's offensive flurry gave the Horns a 76-57 advantage. Taylor nailed a trey to make it an 81-59 contest but the Mavs continued to chip away during the final three minutes.

"We got up 25 and let them back into the game," Klotz said. "We just have to grow up."

Texas (7-1) travels to Wake Forest (8-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in an ESPN national telecast.

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