Mid-Season Stumble

A nose-dive in the polls has ended with the Horns at No. 19, an unfortunate drop from their mid-December perch at No. 4, which was earned by a buzzer-beater win against No. 2 ranked UCLA. After starting the season 11-0, the Longhorns have managed to lose three of their last five. Why?

Anybody trying to find a source for the Longhorns' recent collapse on hardwood is going to have to dig deeper than head coach Rick Barnes.

"I can't explain it…it's disappointing," Barnes said on Thursday. "If I knew why, I wouldn't allow it to happen."

The Horns were undefeated in conference openers under Rick Barnes until a Dec. 12 loss at Missouri. Breaking down the stats, it appears all signs point to one culprit: a lagging defense. The Horns have allowed only an average of 61.7 points per game on 37.5 percent FG shooting in each victory, but let slip 80.7 points per loss on 48.9 percent FG shooting.

"The way we play, we aren't very good." Barnes said.

"It's disappointing (when) you don't do things you were doing just a week earlier."

After the team's 84-97 loss to Missouri, Barnes immediately knew the difference between the UCLA-beating Horns and the losing Horns. To reinforce his suspicion, he asked two assistant coaches to go back and look at the UCLA and Missouri games and tell him what they see. They saw exactly what Barnes saw. The difference was in junior F/C Connor Atchley and sophomore G Justin Mason. Barnes and his coaches agreed that Atchley and Mason didn't display the aggressiveness they showed off earlier in the season. Atchley lead the conference in blocks (2.13 per game) and had an eight-game streak with at least one until Missouri snapped it last Saturday. He's hit 60.7 percent from the field and gained Barnes's attention as a dominate force on the court.

"I wish I knew why Connor and Mason were one way a month ago and how they are now," Barnes explained, as curious as the next guy.

Besides the slumps by Atchley and Mason, the Horns have to break in freshman forward Gary Johnson. Johnson, who had been sidelined for every regular-season game with a previously undiagnosed heart condition, joined the rotation when Texas took on TCU on January 2nd. Since being given the green light, Johnson has started in all three games but has yet to find his groove.

"He's a freshman," Barnes explained. "He's played three games… (and) his third game was a conference game. Other freshmen have had 15 games. A lot of it is positioning, playing at a different level"

Although the Longhorns have managed to add one to their rotation, freshman G Dogus Balbay and sophomore F/C Matt Hill are still holding on to their roles as number one fans from the bench. Both are out indefinitely due to right knee and heel injuries, respectively, and Hill has already had surgery on his injured left heel.

"We beat UCLA; we could have very easily lost that game. We lost to Wisconsin; we could have very easily won. We are what we are," Barnes said before wrapping up with a dose of reality. "I have no idea what to expect. If coaches knew fundamentally every single thing their team would do, it wouldn't be very fun."

The Longhorns take on the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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