Texas Needs To 'Zone' In On Offensive Boards

When Texas lost frontcourt starters P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge, coach Rick Barnes diverted from his preferred man-to-man defense and has gone almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone the past couple of games. But will the makeover necessarily result in the kind of rebounding deficit that proved to be the Longhorns' undoing in Saturday's narrow 64-60 loss at Oklahoma?

Traditionally, one of the drawbacks of playing zone is that defenders may not be in position to grab some boards. For Barnes, however, it has less to do with a particular area of the court than it does with personal accountability.

"The difference, in man-to-man, is if I'm guarding you and you get the rebound then it's obvious who didn't block out," Barnes said Monday. "In zone, there's a lot of movement going on in there. There's a lot of guys who come flying in. You can talk about rebounding areas of the floor but, the bottom line is, sometimes you've got to go get it."

The Sooners grabbed 22 offensive boards leading to 18 second-chance points at Norman. Meanwhile, Texas accounted for eight offensive rebounds and three second-chance points.

"They (OU) ended up with 16 more shots than we had and you can't give that up," Barnes said. "We'll keep working and keep trying to figure out how to get that down."

Barnes also went with a 2-3 zone for much of Texas' 75-61 win over Oklahoma State last week, even though Tucker played for much of the second half. It was his final game of the 2004-05 season, as the sophomore was declared academically ineligible last Thursday. Meanwhile, Aldridge will miss his third straight ballgame when Texas hosts Texas Tech on Tuesday. There is still no timetable for Aldridge's return, Barnes said Monday, after the freshman injured his left hip in Texas' road win at Nebraska on January 15.

Senior G Sydmill Harris started in place of Tucker at Oklahoma. The three-guard lineup, however, doesn't necessarily lend itself to zone defense.

"I've never liked small zones and we got caught small a few times," Barnes said.

Barnes commended forwards Harris and freshman F Dion Dowell for their defensive play on the wing before adding, "The ones that really hurt us were the rebounds right in the middle, right in front of the basket. That's where you really have to gang rebound it."

Junior F Brad Buckman was one board shy of a double-double (12 points, nine rebounds) against Oklahoma. Senior C Jason Klotz, logging his fourth start of the season, tallied a season-high 14 points but just four boards in 35 minutes of play.

"We have to have Jason Klotz, Brad Buckman, Kenton Paulino, Kenny Taylor and Sydmill Harris, those five guys have to give it to us every night," Barnes said. "Those guys have been through it. They have got to be on top of it every night."

It's just a matter of time before 6-7 freshman F Mike Williams begins to throw his weight around and emerges as the kind of force on game day that teammates have said he already is during practice. But his head coach primarily wants the McDonald's All-American to become less hesitant in taking the ball to the hole. Williams was 0-for-1 from the field against the Sooners.

"When Mike goes into the game, he needs to be more offensive-minded," Barnes said. "You can't have a post guy that's not looking to score. And he can score, but he's not looking to score at all. We need him to give us that power post up inside and get some rim shots for us. If we're in a situation where we're bogging down on offense, you've got to have both (power forwards) out there being aggressive. In the second half (at OU), we were needing more offense than anything. And that's why (Williams) didn't play in the second half."

Dowell's shoulder problems have limited him to just six appearances this season. But Barnes has noted an increase in Dowell's focus now that he has seen action in three consecutive ballgames.

"There's definitely a difference in Dion's focus," Barnes. "As coaches, you try to make a person understand that you've got to work every day. But when you know that you're not going to play in the next game, it's hard to be as focused mentally as you need to be."

There was a curiosity factor surrounding Texas' regionally-televised game at OU, as many wondered how the shorthanded Horns would respond after losing its leading scorer and rebounder in Tucker. Texas led most of the game before junior F Kevin Bookout completed a key three-point play in the final two minutes that Barnes said was critical to the outcome. Buckman was whistled for basket interference in the final minute of play when it was still a one-possession game. Given the fact that the nationally-ranked Sooners squeaked by the shorthanded Horns on their own floor, I asked Barnes what kind of statement, if any, he thought Texas made Saturday.

"I'm not a big 'moral victory' guy; I'm a bottom-line guy," Barnes said. "The bottom line is we were in a position to win the game and we walked out of there thinking we should have won the game. We're not into moral victories. I think we're too far along to ever accept that."

Texas (14-4, 3-2 in Big 12) tips off against Texas Tech (11-4, 3-1 in Big 12) at 8 p.m., Tuesday, in an ESPN+ telecast.

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