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February 11, 2012Credit Rick Barnes with taking advantage of some pre-game instruction as the Longhorns - with their post-season hopes possibly on the line - erased a 15-point, second-half deficit and beat Kansas State 75-64 Saturday in front of 11,425 at the Erwin Center.
Call it a semi-signature win, considering K-State (17-7, 6-6 Big 12) beat Missouri earlier this season but also got swept by OU (13-10, 3-8 Big 12).
The Longhorns (16-9, 6-6 Big 12) have won three straight (Tech, at A&M, K-State) with back-to-back road trips coming up at Oklahoma on Tuesday and at Oklahoma State next Saturday.
Barnes said the officials told both teams before Saturday's game they were going to call it tight, so Barnes told his guys to drive, be aggressive and get fouled.
And that they did. Texas shot 48 free throws to Kansas State's 12 for the game. The Longhorns shot 28 free throws to K-State's 0 in the decisive second half.
"I don't know if I had any qualms with any of the calls because the officials came over before the game and said, 'We're going to blow the whistle,'" Barnes said.
"Both teams are known to be physical. You look at our numbers across the board, it's amazing how identical we are in so many different categories."
K-State coach Frank Martin, who popped off publicly about the officiating after Iowa State overcame a 14-point deficit by getting a number of calls and trips to the free-throw line in a 72-70 Cyclones' win on Jan. 31, showed total restraint Saturday.
When asked about Texas shooting 28 free throws in the second half and K-State shooting 0, Martin said: "I didn't officiate. You'd have to ask them." And left it at that.
But Martin did have the quote of the day in crediting Texas with a strong performance: "They Bogarted us in every facet of the game. We played selfishly on both sides of the ball. We couldn't execute. We played one-on-one. Defensively, they crawled up in us. And offensively, we played one on one."
TEXAS' DEEP, FIRST-HALF FREEZE: Things were going according to plan for Texas until freshman point guard Myck Kabongo picked up his second foul 75 feet from the basket and went to the bench for the rest of the half with 9:51 left before intermission.
When Kabongo went to the bench, Texas had a 19-18 lead. With Kabongo no longer on the floor, Texas shuffled to a smaller lineup, started pressing to make something happen and turned the ball over. Kansas State built a 13-point halftime lead as Texas missed 10 straight shots from the floor.
"We bogged down in the first half offensively, when Myck left the game," Barnes said. "It was because we stopped driving the ball. We just got out of sync. We went with a small lineup to try and get through the foul trouble."
Texas ended up going 12 minutes and 30 seconds without a made field goal - a span stretching from the 8:53 mark of the first half (a jumper by J'Covan Brown) until the 16:30 mark of the second half (when Alexis Wangmene scored on a putback jam after a miss by Brown on a baseline drive).
WANGMENE GOES OFF: Speaking of Wangmene, Barnes said the senior forward responded to a challenge before the game, resulting in his best ever effort as a Longhorn - 15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 34 minutes.
"Lex, what can you say?" Barnes said. "He played the best game he's ever played at Texas."
Frank Martin went even further: "I told (Alexis) Wangmene after the game, 'That was awesome.' I cannot stand losing. But when you see a senior do what he did toward the end of his career - that is what it's about."
Barnes said he had a talk with Wangmene on Friday.
"I was talking to him yesterday and I said, 'You know what I don't understand about you? When we challenge you going up against guys who can really play, you take that challenge,'" Barnes said. "The other night at A&M, I told him the last possession, he was going to be the key because he had to guard (David) Loubeau.
"I said to him, 'Why don't you do that all the time regardless of who you're playing? Because you can really change the way a game is played by how you play inside.' And what impressed me most today was how he really went and got some rebounds.
"I also told him to get back to making his free throws, because he's always been a good free throw shooter."
Wangmene made 9 of 12 free throws, including 7-of-8 in the decisive second half.
MCLELLAN PASSES DEFENSIVE TEST: Sheldon McClellan had started the last two games against Texas Tech and Texas A&M, scoring 17 points and 15 points, respectively.
McClellan was replaced in the starting lineup against Kansas State Saturday by Julien Lewis for defensive purposes - to defend K-State leading scorer Rodney McGruder, who had been averaging 14.7 points per game and had 33 points in an 84-80 victory over Texas on Jan. 18.
But with Lewis in a funk offensively and Texas struggling to score, Barnes went with McClellan for most of the second half. McClellan hit 3-of-4 shots in the second half while also defending McGruder, who did not score a point in the second half. McGruder had 11 points - all in the first half.
McClellan finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
"Sheldon McClellan worked as hard as he's ever worked defensively," Barnes said.
MARTIN A BIG 'RICK BARNES FAN': Frank Martin was very complimentary of Texas' aggressive, physical play.
"I have been a Rick Barnes fan since I was a young high school coach," Martin said. "I told Rick, 'That is Rick Barnes' basketball. That is the basketball I grew up watching your kids play.' I cannot compliment them enough. They came out in the second half, and they punched us in the mouth, again and again.
"They got us on the ropes, and we never punched back. And for Texas to do that with so many freshmen is awesome."
Barnes agreed about his team's second-half performance.
"I told the team I've been doing this a long time and I sat there in the second half and enjoyed it. Because I enjoy teams that get after people on the defensive end. I enjoy teams that will attack on the offensive end and are in constant attack mode.
"That's what we've told our team since these (freshmen) got here. We said, 'You guys have got to get to a point where you understand what we built this program on.' In the second half, you could tell our defensive intensity went up.
"The (assistant) coaches are always talking about what we need to do on offense, I truly sat there and said, 'These guys know what they are doing. Just let them go.' And it all started on the defensive end."
J'COVAN LIKES TO SPIN: J'Covan Brown led Texas with 23 points and put on a show with 15 points in the second half, including a couple spin moves to the basket that put the crowd on its feet and had NBA scouts making notes.
"I like to spin," J'Covan said. "I'm very crafty when I spin. Crazy things happen. I just felt like I should spin on both of those plays. I did. And it was just great moves by me, I guess."
MY TAKE: McClellan is a huge key for Texas the rest of this season. If he can be aggressive and confident on offense while still pulling his weight defensively, the Longhorns can keep this roll going.
Julien Lewis is a solid defender, but he's really struggling with his offense.
Kabongo is unpredictable offensively. He is very streaky from 3-point range, has a limited mid-range game and seems to score the most on drives or from the free-throw line (which are not bad places to be scoring from). But his handle was off Saturday. Kabongo had 3 turnovers in the first half and finished with 5 turnovers and only 3 assists.
Wangmene's performance was huge. K-State has a big frontcourt with 6-10 Adrian Diaz and 6-11 Jordan Henriquez. Neither is very skilled. But Wangmene outworked both of them, and with Clint Chapman in foul trouble (3 points, 1 rebound, 3 blocks in 12 minutes), Wangmene's work takes on added significance.
It's easy to see why Myck Kabongo has electrified and frustrated Barnes this season. At times, he is magical with the ball in his hands. At others, it's as if he is simply playing to his own game plan.
Barnes said the second foul by Kabongo (the one 75 feet from the basket) that sent him to the bench with 9:51 left in the first half was because Kabongo "gets excited."
"I spent a lot of time with Myck before the game and he's as competitive and plays as hard defensively as any freshman we've had here," Barnes said. "But I told him, 'As the excitement of the game gets going, that's when you've got to control your excitement.'
"He can't be fouling 75 feet from the basket when he's already got one (foul). But he gets excited. He loves the game. But that's where he's got to be smart."
Kabongo is going to have to be really smart the next two games ? both on the road with Texas trying to keep this critical momentum.
"It's a great win," J'Covan Brown said. "We've got a tough game Tuesday. We've got a winning streak going of three games. We just need our defense to keep dictating the games, stay as a team, and the results will take care of themselves."
UP NEXT: at Oklahoma Tuesday, 7 p.m. on the Big 12 Network (check your local listings, usually KBVO in Austin).