NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A season of highs and lows came to an end on Friday night.
And when it did — boy, was Texas low.
After surrendering a 14-point second half lead, the Longhorns found themselves bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive time.
Texas now heads to the offseason with the future uncertain and its most important player on his way out.
Here are four thoughts on the loss:
Ball movement beat out individual talent
Nevada was undersized and outmanned. Three Texas players stood taller than the entire Wolf Pack roster, but better fundamental basketball won out in Nashville.
On the opening play of the game, Nevada whipped the ball through the lane and around the perimeter in a sequence of truly brilliant basketball. The team found a shooter on the wing on its second possession, completely open, to jump out to a 5-0 lead.
While the Wildcats forced the defense to rotate, Texas found the majority of its baskets on isolation opportunities and put backs. For every Bamba dunk and junior Kerwin Roach II step back, the Wolf Pack answered with backdoor cuts and complicated screen plays for shooters.
Up and down the roster Texas boasted bigger and more talented individual players. But Nevada played as five, and advanced as a result.
Bamba's foul trouble exposed Texas’ other big men defenders
When Bamba patrolled the lane, the rim was closed for business. The forward sent away and altered nearly every attempt within three feet, and quickly Nevada got the memo.
Only once in regulation did a member of the Wolf Pack try to meet Bamba at the rim.
When they did, Bamba snatched the ball out of the air with almost comical ease, foiling the dunk attempt and ending the possession.
But over the course of three minutes, with time dwindling in the second half, Bamba picked up his second foul, then his third, then his fourth. For much of the remaining time in regulation and all of overtime Texas’ rim protector watched from the bench as Osetkowski and Sims put up all of the resistance of a sieve holding back water.
Osetkowski didn’t pick up a foul for himself until the game had been all but decided. On possession after possession the forward allowed his man to find the rim on backdoor cuts and drives to the rim.
Osetkowski played as if he was the one in foul trouble, and the defensive lapses with Bamba sidelined exposed the slower Longhorn big men.
Even in a loss, Bamba outclassed his opponents
Texas may have been the lower seed, but it certainly wasn’t the underdog. And indeed, according to ESPN, less than half of the submitted brackets picked Nevada to win.
Bamba towered over every other player on the floor, exerting his will on both ends.
Early in the contest the forward muscled his way past a noticeably smaller defender and made a reverse dunk when the defense rotated to contest.
To the 17,552 people in attendance and the millions more watching at home, it was abundantly clear that Bamba was far and away the best player on the floor. But time and time again Texas failed to find its big man under the rim.
Bamba only took 11 shots in 31 minutes, most of which came on putbacks. His limited impact against a team who he should have dominated only highlighted the Longhorn disconnect.
Texas isn’t built to win shootouts
All season long, shooting, specifically threes, has been the achilles heel for this squad. Texas has hung its hat on defensive intensity and interior presence.
By the end of the game on Friday, that strategy had been thrown out the window in favor of a run and gun style. The Longhorns tried to match pace with Nevada, a team whose lack of size has forced them to embrace an offense of uptempo pace and lots of threes.
In overtime, the two teams were simply trading baskets. Bamba’s absence played a role, but Texas abandoned its identity, and in doing so, tried to beat Nevada at its own game.