The best place to start when holding a team below its scoring average: the best player.
Shutting down opponents’ top scorers has been a major factor in Texas starting Big 12 competition 7-0.
In their seven conference games, the Longhorns’ defense has held top offensive players below their point averages five times, including Marcus Morris — the league’s No. 6 scorer.
Texas also limited Missouri’s Marcus Denmon — who averages 16.7 points per game — to just 7 and held Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton scoreless Monday.
“One thing that we’ve tried to do all year is take away the team’s leading scorer,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “When you do that, you’ll have to have a team and people that really help you out
Overall, the Longhorns have held each opposing Big 12 team to roughly 20 points below its average.
That includes two of the NCAA’s top 10 scoring squads in Kansas and Missouri.
Texas’ ability to limit an offense starts with the defense-first mentality that Barnes constantly stresses and his players have responded to all season long.
Prior to an early-season game against Lamar, Texas’ leading scorer Jordan Hamilton spent the entire two practices leading up to the game on the defensive end.
Each player has become so used to defense that it has started to become fun.
“We have no choice,” Hamilton said after Monday’s win over Texas A&M. “When you’re playing with a guy like Dogus Balbay, who can guard anyone in the country, he makes it fun because he has great help defense, and he can guard the ball really well.”
Teammates repeatedly call Balbay the best defender in college basketball. They would know best, having to practice against him every day.
Balbay was responsible for shutting down Oklahoma State’s second-leading scorer Keiton Page on Jan. 26. On Jan. 29, he helped keep Denmon 10 points below his season average as well as limiting Kansas freshman Josh Selby to only four points in Texas’ comeback victory on Jan. 22.
But every player is an important part of the team’s defensive efforts. Cory Joseph makes things hard for opposing point guards and the rest of the team is stepping up as well.
Hamilton was all over Middleton on Monday and helped out with Texas Tech’s leading scorer Mike Singletary, who only scored five points versus Texas. Hamilton also kept Oklahoma’s second-leading scorer Cade Davis to only three points.
At the post, the combination of starters Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson has limited the opposition’s frontcourt. And when those two sit down, reserves Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene have picked up the slack recently. Wangmene recorded two blocks against the Aggies while Hill grabbed a season-high eight rebounds.
All four big men, although allowing the Morris twins of Kansas to reach near their averages, made them earn every point as they shot a combined eight of 24 from the field.
“They’re just such good athletes, they can pressure the ball, then they have shot blockers in the back,” Texas A&M coach Mike Turgeon said Monday.
Carrying their defensive mindset into this Saturday’s rematch with Tech, which averages 73.7 points per game, the Longhorns face the next step in their quest to shut down the high-scoring offenses of the Big 12.