Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

KANSAS CITY – Sophomores Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan came up big off the bench for the Longhorns in their 70-57 win over TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament Wednesday night. 

Lewis led the Longhorns with 19 points, hitting four three-pointers. McClellan scored 12 points and hit seven of eight attempts from the free throw line.

“I think we’re coming out with a lot of confidence,” Lewis said. “[Head] coach [Rick Barnes] asked us to be aggressive when we come in. We gotta go in and do our jobs.

The Longhorns struggled in the first half, leading last-place TCU by two going into the locker room with a score of 28-26 at halftime. Kabongo led Texas in scoring with eight points in the first 20 minutes. The Longhorns jumped out to a 10-2 lead but allowed a surge by the Horned Frogs to bring the score to within two.

A 3-pointer by TCU’s Nate Butler Lind gave the Horned Frogs’ their first lead of the game, making it 22-21 with 2:49 left in the half, but Lewis responded with his own three-pointer on the next possession to put Texas back out front.

The Longhorns defense held TCU to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half, but allowed several key three-pointers that kept the game close.

“At the start of the game, I thought our defense was outstanding. We really came out and create some offense,” Barnes said. “Our defense got stymied on offense a little, on the offensive end. We knew it was going to be a hard fought game from the beginning.”

Throughout the second half, the Longhorns stayed aggressive to maintain the lead. The Horned frogs kept it close at first, posting a 39-27 lead at 14:49, but the Longhorns bounced back and played smart, extending the lead to 13 points.

“Being aggressive, that’s all it is, is being aggressive and staying in attack mode and knowing that when we’re in the bonus, just take care of the ball and trying to be aggressive,” Kabongo, who scored 16 points and had six assists, said. “Just being aggressive.”

The No. 7 seed Longhorns will turn around and face No. 2 seed Kansas State on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Longhorns dropped both regular season contests to the Wildcats by double digits.

“Well I’m not sure they’re not the best team, one of the best teams in the country,” Barnes said of Kansas State. “They don’t give you anything easy.” 

Myck Kabongo, who played 23 minutes Saturday, prepares for a pass against Texas Tech. Kabongo has struggled with foul trouble recently.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The hallmark of a Rick Barnes team has always been a stifling defense. Now, two-thirds of the way through Big 12 play, the Longhorns are finally becoming a defensive menace.

Texas has won three straight games on the strength of its swarming D. UT (16-9, 6-6) is allowing an average of 63 points during the streak, and the Longhorns visit Oklahoma tonight looking to pester another opponent.

“The Texas defense looks very active, very aggressive with good size inside, terrific athletic ability on the perimeter and it all works well together,” said Sooners head coach Lon Kruger. “You have to be aggressive in attacking it, but that’s easier said than done. They are very good.”

The Sooners, in contrast, rank last in the league in team defense (72.8 points per game). But that doesn’t mean the Longhorns are taking them lightly.

“They have been like us; close on so many occasions,” Barnes said. “This time of year, every game is a huge game. You have to be ready to play; I don’t care who you’re playing. If you’re not [ready], you’re going to get beat.”

The Longhorns are 6-1 in conference play when they hold their opponent under 69 points, and 0-5 when allowing more than that. Texas, though, has struggled to defend away from home. In four road defeats, the Longhorns have given up over 80 points per game.

Still, Texas broke through last Monday against Texas A&M for its first Big 12 road win. Barnes is finally getting all of his six rookies up to speed on the defensive end — an area where many freshmen struggle.

“We’ve tried to put our most consistent defensive team on the floor to start the game,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a couple freshmen that are way ahead of the curve in Myck [Kabongo] and Julien [Lewis].”

Lewis’ quick grasp of his defensive assignments is one reason the shooting guard has started 18 games. The freshman is third on the team with 26 steals, but is dealing with hamstring discomfort for over a week.

“He wasn’t totally there [Saturday] but he went at it,” Barnes said. “If he can walk, he’s going to play.”

If the hamstring limits Lewis tonight, look for Sheldon McClellan to see more time. McClellan has scored in double-digits in each of the last three games, and Barnes has praised his improvement on defense.

While injuries have hampered Lewis at times, foul trouble is plaguing Kabongo. The point guard has been prone to pick up early fouls that land him on the bench in the first half. Against Kansas State on Saturday, the freshman committed his second foul more than 90 feet away from the basket.

“My job is to get us in the offense, and picking up silly fouls in the backcourt like that doesn’t help our team,” said Kabongo, who leads Texas with 127 assists. “I have to be a lot smarter with my fouls.”

When Kabongo is not on the floor, the offensive becomes stagnant. He’ll have to avoid cheap fouls if the Longhorns want to keep their win streak alive.

“We really need him in the game to get us going,” said leading scorer J’Covan Brown.

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Texas looks to extend win streak to four