Texas' winning streak powered by defense, free throws

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has finally figured out that it is offensively limited.

OK, maybe they figured that out when they didn’t break 60 against Oklahoma State at home. It’s just that now Texas has figured out what to do about it. Play defense.

Texas has won four straight and in those games has allowed just 62 points per game. The defense has even become stingier in the second halves of the last two games. Kansas State scored just 24 points and shot 32 percent after leading at halftime against Texas. Oklahoma scored just 25 points and shot 42 percent in the second half after leading at halftime. Now the Longhorns will try for five straight Saturday when they travel to Oklahoma State.

Couple that defense with a more aggressive attack, which allows for Texas to get the free throw line, and that’s why the Longhorns have been successful as of late.

“We got to the free throw line 29 times and shot a nice percentage [against Oklahoma] compared to the fact that they only got there eight times,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s a big step for us. If you go back the last couple games, we’ve been getting to the free throw line”

Texas has made it to the free throw line 77 times in the last two games. The Longhorns have converted 59 of those attempts. Their opponents have been 20 times and made 13. That’s a 46-point differential.

The reason those free throw attempts are piling up for Texas, and not for the opponents, is because of the defense. Alexis Wangmene, after watching Texas A&M’s David Loubeau back down into the lane and get to the stripe 10 times, has stepped up his interior defense.

“The one thing you are always searching for is consistency in every single thing,” Barnes said. “What we need him to do for us is to know we can count on him every single night to play defense, rebound and screen for us. He has been a guy that has made some key defensive plays for us.”

With Wangmene playing solid interior defense that allows Texas’ guards, specifically Myck Kabongo and Julien Lewis, to put more pressure on the perimeter players. With that, the ball has a hard time getting into the paint.

With the ball relegated to the perimeter, Kabongo has been able to get active with his hands, force turnovers and get fouled on breakaways (Texas has 19 points off turnovers in the second half against OU). The rest of the Texas players are seeing the success he has had getting to the rim, and subsequently the free throw line, and doing the same.

“We’ve got a couple of freshman that are way ahead of the curve in Myck and Julien,” Barnes said about the pair’s defensive pressure. “The whole key [for the other freshmen] is how quick they can grasp it, how quickly can they pick it up and move forward.”

It appears as if most of them have started to do just that in the last four games.