This season has been one unending uphill climb for Texas.
With four regular-season games remaining, it appears that the Longhorns will fail to hit the top, or at this point, finish without a losing record.
Texas (12-15, 4-10 in the Big 12), barring a miraculous series of upsets at the Big 12 Tournament on March 13-16, will miss out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 and for only the third time since 1989. Coach Rick Barnes’ young team struggled to jell early with suspended point guard Myck Kabongo missing the first 23 games. His return Feb. 13 has helped, but it is likely too late to salvage one of the most disappointing seasons in over two decades.
Texas hosts Oklahoma (18-8, 9-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
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“After games, sometimes I’m probably as bad as anybody about my emotions that I feel because I’m disappointed,” Barnes said during Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “I think anytime you have big expectations and they’re not reached I think you’re disappointed. But when you step back and really evaluate the film — and one thing I know our guys are really playing hard.”
But, Barnes added, too much of his team still doesn’t “understand the fine line between winning and losing.”
“Just simple plays here and there,” he said. “If you really looked at our game the other night under a microscope you’d see where you can definitely see Kansas State’s maturity where they finish possessions whether on offense or defense. With that said, I thought our guys tried to stay in there.”
Barnes has won at least 20 games every season since finishing 19-13 in 1998, his first season at Texas. He’s never finished below .500 in the Big 12 or lost 10 league games in a season. He’ll do both in 2013.
“As a coach, I have very high expectations and I don’t care about experience, inexperience,” he said. “I just think the bottom line is it’s a hard game to get right. It’s hard to win, but they have to know by now what goes into it and where we’re not getting it, that’s where I get frustrated with it.”
He points to his team too often fading from a design offensive strategy and failing to execute his game plan.
“Still too many guys want to try to make it happen themselves,” he said. “We’re too fragile for us [to do that successfully]. It always seems like we’re fighting uphill. Believe me, we’re getting better. It’s my job to make sure they understand how important every single possession is in the game and we give away too many right now.”
Gray’s growth at Tech
Texas Tech freshman Josh Gray has slowed down and that’s a good thing.
Red Raiders interim coach Chris Walker said the point guard’s improvements throughout the season come mostly from Gray reining in his natural up-tempo speed into a more manageable pace.
The Houston Wheatley High School graduate had back-to-back 20-point league games last week, a first for a Tech player in the Big 12 era. His 26 points against Oklahoma were the most by a Tech freshman in a Big 12 game.
“Bottom line, he’s calmed himself down,” Walker said. “He has slowed down. I’ve often remarked that the greatest thing about Josh is he’s super-human fast. The worst thing about Josh is he’s super-human fast. The great players play the game from the neck up. I think he’s starting to realize he needs to slow down a little bit.”
Gray’s 3.3 assists per game are the most for a Tech freshman since 1992-93 and his steals average (2.1) is the second-best in Red Raiders history. Gray was selected the Big 12 rookie of the week on Monday, Tech’s first weekly honor since Fort Worth All Saints graduate Jordan Tolbert earned the honor in January 2012. Gray is second on the team with 10 points a game.
“I think the game was moving so fast for him before, and now it’s starting to slow down, he’s starting to listen and he’s starting to pick up things that have been beneficial to him to make his individual play better,” Walker said. “And I think the team is playing better. Obviously, we need more Josh Grays. That would help. I couldn’t be happier for him.”