Whacked by Wildcats: Texas bounced back from NCAAs
Shaka Smart’s best team so far in Texas looked nervous at the start and tight at the end of Saturday night against Abilene Christian. Yet another NCAA tournament nightmare, this time in Indianapolis.
His top three goalies – Matt Coleman III, Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones – combined for 15 of the team’s 23 turnovers, a season-high.
His best big man, Jericho Sims, only shot the ball three times all night despite having a huge size advantage over the tenacious Wildcats.
His best decision of the year, putting Kai Jones in the starting lineup, didn’t pay off like it did in Kansas City. The likely second NBA-linked student had 11 points and just three rebounds.
Smart’s best chance at an NCAA tournament in Texas has also ended. The third-seeded Longhorns suffered a stinging 53-52 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium, which easily became the biggest win in Abilene Christian program history.
“We just beat the University of Texas,” said ACU coach Joe Golding. “Little old Abilene Christian in West Texas built a program that went hand in hand with the University of Texas and it’s an amazing story. That’s what it’s all about in March.
The Big 12 were 6-0 in the NCAA until the 14th-seeded Wildcats beat the Big 12 tournament champions. Abilene Christian (24-4) advanced to the round of 16 and will face UCLA as Texas return home from the Indianapolis bubble.
“Lots of tears in the locker room right now,” said Smart. “A lot of the guys are extremely upset with the way the game ended, that we have to go home now. Very disappointed. Everyone is.”
Andrew Jones buried a 3-point with 13.8 seconds left to give Texas a one-point lead. But Abilene Christian’s Joe Pleasant was fouled by Coleman with 1.2 seconds left. Was it a phantom call? “The referee called a foul so I guess it was a foul,” said Coleman.
Pleasant, a 58.8% free throw shooter, had both shots to give the Wildcats the lead. The game ended on Texas’ 23rd turn of the night as the Horns were in full scramble mode.
“You have to believe that you can beat any team you play with,” Pleasant said. “At the end of the day, we all play basketball. They’re like us, you know, they put their pants on like us, one leg at a time. So at the end of the day, we just have to go compete and give our best and that’s what we did tonight.
It’s a special Abilene team, without a doubt. It was supposed to be an Austin special too.
Texas won the Maui Invitational, finished third in the rugged Big 12, swept Kansas in the regular season and won the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in school history. But this sport is all that happens in March. The Horns are now one and finished the season 19-8.
“It just doesn’t feel real,” Coleman said. “I feel like I’m going to wake up from a bad dream.”
Smart is now 0-3 in three NCAA trips with UT, and the question must be asked: if he can’t win in the NCAA with this team, will Smart ever win anything substantial at UT? The coach has two more years on his contract with an estimated buyout of $ 7.1 million.
“I told our guys, I thought coming into this tournament the way they handled all of the stuff that was sent to us throughout the year was just phenomenal,” said Smart. “A lot of things that could have made people crack or give up or go their separate ways and they really stuck together.
“But tonight obviously we didn’t play our best and Abilene Christian deserves a lot of credit for that, the way they defended,” he added.
The Horns were the ones who seemed nervous from the start. The Wildcats were running like someone had kicked a bed of fire ants. Texas opened with their traditional game to the Sims, who slammed it at home, but it was a 10-10 game about seven minutes later.
Andrew Jones was shooting from the air and Ramey was missing lay-ups. Greg Brown scored a 3 point in the corner for his only contribution of the evening; Smart put the rookie on the bench in the second half and stayed with the veterans.
When asked why Brown didn’t play more in the second half, Smart replied, “We were just trying to play to win. The same as we do in any game. Brown played one minute in the second half, six minutes in total.
The Horns appeared to be OK at halftime, closing in a 6-0 run. The Wildcats missed their last 12 shots before the break and were down by five.
Early in the second half, Kai Jones hit a 15-footer and showed a nice euro no for another bucket, putting Texas at 32-23.
“Yeah, I wasn’t surprised our guys were nervous at the start of the game,” said Smart. “That’s usually the case in your first NCAA tournament game, especially after we’ve been really in the bubble here for a week. But I really felt like we were going to settle down.
Smart noted that the Horns had a nine-point lead, but “we weren’t able to keep it.”
Coryon Mason converted a three-point game for ACU. Clay Gayman had two free throws and Mahki Morris scored on an out. So it was a two-point game.
When Reggie Miller struck a wild and lucky blow while falling, the Horns should have known they were in trouble. That crazy bucket gave ACU a 37-36 lead and real conviction. It was back and forth the rest of the way.
Even with all of UT’s turnovers, the ACU couldn’t pull away as the Wildcats were 3 for 18 on a 3-point range. But the ACU recorded 18 offensive rebounds against five for Texas.
“We showed a huge heart tonight, a ton of adversity all night long, we couldn’t put the ball in the basket, we couldn’t find a way to score, but we just kept on keep and found a way to go on the glass offensive, ”Golding said.
The Longhorns are now returning home and heading for an uncertain future. The list will be revamped and the future of the coach is now uncertain. As a schedule, Texas still haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since Cam Ridley’s scoop and scoring against Arizona State in 2014.
“Had a special group of guys,” Coleman said. “Our big picture has not been achieved. If you don’t reach your goal in life, you’re not feeling great.