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March 19, 2010

Texas season summed up in loss to Wake Forest

All the problems that derailed a historical season for Texas resurfaced in an 81-80 overtime loss to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night.

It was the fourth time in the 12-year Rick Barnes' Era that Texas went out in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

But Texas never reached No. 1 in the 1999, 2001 and 2005 seasons like the Longhorns did this year.

Missed free throws. Missed layups. Strange substitutions and a seeming unwillingness to run offense for Jordan Hamilton in the second half, when Wake Forest opened with a 13-2 run left, all contributed to this loss.

The jaw-dropping stat of the game was Wake Forest drubbing Texas in rebounding - 59-34. The strength of UT coming into the season was its depth in the front-court. But that front-court was worked by Wake Forest's length, including 7-footer Chas McFarland and 6-11 Tony Woods.


FEARLESS FRESHMEN

The two players who Rick Barnes spent breaking down starting in January - derailing a 17-0 start to the season - kept Texas from being humiliated in this game.

J'Covan Brown scored 20 points, and Jordan Hamilton scored 19 points.

Brown played only three minutes in the first half.

And Hamilton, who scored 16 points in the first half and carried Texas back from an 11-point deficit, didn't attempt a shot in the second half until the 8:35 mark.

How does that happen? How are there no plays run or screen action called for to help Hamilton get separation for a jump shot? It simply didn't happen.

LAYUP LABORS

The 103 missed layups in a seven-game stretch earlier this season came back. Dexter Pittman missed three from point-blank range with Texas down four at the 3:56 mark of regulation.

Pittman finished with 4 points and 8 rebounds in 21 minutes but went 3-of-8 from the foul line in his final game as a Longhorn.

Damion James, who managed 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting, was frustrated all game long by Wake Forest's big man Al-Farouq Aminu (20 points), who showed the NBA scouts in attendance what NBA defense looks like.

Texas' third senior Justin Mason tried to help Avery Bradley in defending Wake Forest rocket Ishmael Smith (19 points). But Mason was a non-factor on offense.

It was a career-long struggle to get Mason to drive to the basket, but it didn't happen Thursday night, and he finished 1-of-3 with 2 points.

After the game, Rick Barnes conceded he played Bradley too many minutes this season, and that's a big reason Bradley (4-of-15 shooting Thursday night) shot 32 percent over the final nine games of the season.

But the gory details were that Damion James missed a free throw with 9.9 seconds left in regulation that would have given Texas a 69-68 lead.

Instead, UT and Wake Forest went to overtime locked at 68-68.

Then, in overtime, J'Covan Brown (20 points on 7-of-13 shooting) and Jordan Hamilton (19 points on 6-of-13 shooting) hit huge 3s on Texas' way to grabbing a 76-68 lead.

But more missed free throws (two by J'Covan Brown with 49.4 seconds left in OT with Texas up 78-74 and two by Gary Johnson with 10 seconds left in OT) opened the door for Wake.

Wake took advantage by hitting its free throws and drilling a 3-pointer (by Ari Stewart) with 15.9 seconds left. That set up a coast-to-coast, pull-up jumper by Ishmael Smith (19 points on 9-of-18 shooting) over the outstretched arm of Avery Bradley with 1.3 seconds left to win it - 81-80.


NEXT YEAR

In the post-game, Rick Barnes said he thinks J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton will buy into the system next season. Hamilton said he'd "definitely" be back.

Avery Bradley told reporters before the game he and his family hadn't talked about his decision yet.


MORE FT WOES

Texas made just 20 of 33 free throws (60.6 percent)and was outrebounded 56-31.

"We just got pounded on the glass," Barnes said. "There were two things coming in that we wanted to accomplish. One was transition defense and the other was rebounding the ball. And we didn't do a great job of either one of those throughout the entire night."

Avery Bradley, guarded by Ishmael Smith, was just 4-of-15 shooting for 9 points, and Damion James, who was guarded by Al-Farouq Aminu (20 points on 6-of-18 shooting with 15 rebounds), was just 4-of-14 for 16 points.

The overtime was indicative of UT's entire season as the Longhorns jumped out to a nice lead (76-68) and then squandered it by missing free throws.

Texas finished the season 556 of 878 from the foul line (63.3 percent), the worst season from the foul line since 1953-54 (60.4 percent).


UT FRESHMEN SHOW UP BIG

On the performance of his freshmen, Barnes said after the game:

"They've shown all year their ability," Barnes said. "We just couldn't get it consistent enough. You know, J'Covan and Jordan have shown signs of what they did tonight. We've seen other signs at times.

"Avery I think has had a tremendous year. He probably -- there is no probably to it. He played way too many minutes early. That's why he went through some struggles. The minutes he played as a freshman were probably in some ways probably overwhelming, but he tried to fight through it.

"But, yeah, they did some good things, they did. But they're disappointed. I told them you've got to remember this feeling. The seniors, they've been here and they've done some good things, but it can end real quickly. It is disappointing."

Damion James wouldn't comment on how the season got off to a 17-0 start and then ended 7-10.


IS J'COVAN THE ANSWER?

Barnes was asked if J'Covan Brown would take over the point guard position next season.

"No, I don't know if I'd say that," Barnes said. "I'm not going to say anybody's going to fill anything, because we're definitely not through recruiting either.

"And we would like to sign another guard, and we're going to sign another guard, because you look at we lost two players that -- in terms of leadership and toughness with Varez and Dogus.

"But I don't know. We'll do what we do every year. We'll put it up for competition and see who wins it. But I'm not going to anoint anybody any position. I tell the players every year that who plays and will be the guys that they determine it every day in practice.

"I think that's what he was alluding to; that he's learned this year that you can't be good one day and take a couple days where you're not putting the energy and effort into it.

"So I do think that J'Covan learned a lot. But the same with Jordan and Avery. But, again, once we get back and start going, based on the off-season and summer, the players will work that out."


WHAT WAS THE PLAN?

Barnes said J'Covan Brown should have held onto the ball and drawn the foul from Wake Forest instead of passing it Gary Johnson with 10 seconds left in OT.

"Yeah, again, I think actually right when he got ready to get rid of it, they were yelling to foul," Barnes said. "And I was watching the 10-second clock because he should have kept the ball.

"We wanted him to keep the ball. I told him that. What he should have done is dribbled it, and see if they would have -- because they would have fouled him, because they were yelling for the foul. And even in that situation, that's where he's got to throw it and run get it back. He had time to do that. But that's being young.

"But the one thing we did tell him is you've got to go get the ball. You've got to make them foul you. And Gary Johnson's been shooting the ball well from the free-throw line. Again, people will look at the free throws at the end, and I understand that. But still it goes back. I mean, when you get beat like we did on the glass."


WHERE WAS HAMILTON IN THE SECOND HALF?

Barnes was asked why Jordan Hamilton only had three shots in the second half after scoring 16 in the first half.

"They got a little emotional," Barnes said. "You know, he just broke down a little bit mentally. We had to get him calmed back down where, you know, yeah.

"You've got to give Wake some credit, too. They're going to adjust their defense. But at that point in time is where you've got to keep executing and working.

"But, again, Jordan has grown a lot. He really has. I know he cares deeply, I do know that. But he'll continue to, I think, understand when people do adjust and do some of those things, that he's going to have to also adjust.

"Again, I can only tell you that those guys have really grown in a lot of ways that people could never understand unless they were with us every day."


NCAA LOSS INDICATIVE OF WHOLE SEASON

Barnes was asked if he felt like Thursday's game was indicative of Texas' entire season.

"Pretty close, yeah. Pretty close," Barnes said. "You go back, I mean, we lost a lot of games this year because of the free-throw line. We can say whatever. You look at it, we had some nights where we just really struggled.

"And Wake would tell you the same thing from their season I think. When you go back and really look into their stats, they lost some games because of some poor nights at the free-throw line. We had gotten so much better there.

"I don't remember us getting outrebounded ever like this. I really don't. Some of that was because of helping. At the end when we were trying to double team the ball, they kicked out and we had to scramble out, you know, the guards and everybody's got to come down and try to put a body on somebody. And that's a tough thing. Wake, obviously, they rebound the ball very well."


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