So, what does head coach Rick Barnes think now of his teams post-season chances?
"Weve lived by the thought that were going to put all of our energy into the next game," Barnes said. "We havent thought about positioning because I dont even think weve been in a position to even think about that. Obviously, we need to win games like everybody does this time of year but I havent thought about where were going to end up, or how were going to do it."
Tuesdays game matches the top two scoring offenses in the Big 12. The Red Raiders are averaging a league-leading 82.3 ppg (NCAA No. 4) while the Horns are right behind at 80.3 ppg (No. 12). Tech also paces the Big 12 with its 77.7 FT percentage (NCAA No. 4) while leading the nation in 3-point FG percentage (43.8 percent).
"Theyre so well coached that they dont take bad shots," Barnes said of the Red Raiders and their head coach Bobby Knight. "They very seldom take a bad shot. They get good looks, and theyll turn down good looks for better looks. They do a great job of playing off of penetration. They really drive the ball well and they kick out. It goes back to shot selection. They dont take any tough ones unless the situation comes where they have to go get a shot."
Senior G Ronald Ross leads his team with 17 ppg and is one of four Red Raiders averaging in double figures. He is averaging 20.6 ppg while shooting 57.1 percent in Big 12 play. Freshman G Martin Zeno (13.6 ppg) has led his team in scoring the past two games.
The Horns won the last meeting, 80-73, in Austin. It was the first test after LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker, both front court starters, were lost for the season. As such, it arguably ranks as a more qualitative win in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee than does the 75-61 thumping of then-No. 5 Oklahoma State during Tuckers last game on January 17.
The 80-73 win over Tech was Texas only win during a five-game stretch, but now the Horns are looking for their fourth consecutive W. A loss in Lubbock would not be fatal. But a victory at the United Spirit Arena, followed by a home win against Missouri Saturday, would give Texas its seventh straight 20 win-season and (in all likelihood) get the team off of the Tournament bubble.
"I just think that if we keep trying to do what were doing right now then hopefully in a couple of weeks well have a good enough resume to where we dont have to talk about anything other than that we finished up pretty strong," Barnes added.
Texas has turned up its play defensively during its current three-game winning streak. In this stretch, the Horns have balanced zone play with man defense, limiting their opponents to 57.3 ppg on a combined 33.1% FG shooting. The Horns relied almost exclusively on zone defense after losing both Tucker and Aldridge up until the second half of the Colorado game.
"If you took a vote of the players, theyd probably tell you that they like man better," Barnes said. "Yet, they also believe the zones been good to us a lot of times. At the same time, I think were getting better with this group and well use whatever defense we think we need at that time."
Guard Kenny Taylor started the first 20 games of the year at shooting guard and has come off the bench in the last five contests. The senior became Texas sixth man at Colorado when coaches believed there would be only six healthy bodies in a Longhorn uniform.
"We felt like we had to have a guard come off the bench as opposed to a front line guy," Barnes said.
But now that guards Sydmill Harris (groin) and Kenton Paulino (dislocated toe) are managing to play with painful injuries, I asked Barnes if hell start freshman F Dion Dowell and his taller lineup rather than Taylor the rest of the season.
"We never talk about starters," Barnes told me. "We really dont. Before each game, (Im asked), Are you still starting the same guys? Ill say, Who are we starting? Thats fine with me. Thats pretty much how it works. I mean, we really dont (talk about starters). I havent thought much about Kenny coming off the bench. "
Taylor recorded 15 points and five boards against Texas A&M, before posting 14 points and seven assists (tying his career high) at Baylor. He is tied for third on the team (among active players) in scoring (10.5 ppg) and second in minutes (28.4 mpg).
Brad Buckman continues to be a beast on the boards, and thats led to scoring opportunities. In the pair of games following his Big 12 Player of the Week honors, Buckman posted 18 points and 13 rebounds in last Wednesdays 75-40 thrashing of Texas A&M. The junior forward fell just one board shy of his fifth straight double-double (19 points, nine boards) during Saturdays win at Baylor.
The Longhorns hold a 62-51 lead in the all-time series with Tech, which dates back to 1940, and have won 31 of the last 39 meetings between the two schools. Texas is 17-2 against the Red Raiders since the formation of the Big 12 Conference and 13-1 in the Rick Barnes era. The Horns are currently riding a seven-game win streak against Tech in Lubbock.
The Texas Tech game will be televised nationally at 7 p.m. (CST) by ESPN2.