Counting on the crowd
Texas Tech is dreaming of a white Christmas that shows up a few weeks early.
The school is encouraging fans to wear all white when the Tech men’s basketball team hosts No. 9 Arizona at 7 p.m. today inside United Spirit Arena.
The last time Tech hosted a school ranked this high during the non-conference season was Dec. 3, 2009, when the Red Raiders upended No. 12 Washington, 99-92, in overtime.
Tech junior forward Jaye Crockett was on the bench as a redshirt that season, and he knows what effect the crowd — when full — can have on an opponent playing in Lubbock for the first time.
“They’re the key to this win if you ask me,” Crockett said. “We need the fans. When you have a large crowd, it just makes it easier to go out there and play. It gives you confidence. You’re more comfortable.”
Tech coach Chris Walker pointed out this will be the first road environment for five Arizona freshmen. The Wildcats (4-0) have cruised to wins in four home games.
Walker believes the crowd can have a tangible difference in the game, particularly when Tech is playing defense.
“Hopefully we’re going to have an awesome crowd here,” he said. “I think the court shrinks with that press when there’s a lot of people here. It will be a great atmosphere with the white-out.”
Tech is offering various ticket/meal packages for the game that can be purchased by calling 806-742-4412 or logging on to TexasTech.com.
The 3 a key
Tech coach Chris Walker has said often this season that any college basketball team is always primed for an upset because of the so-called great equalizer: the 3-point line.
Of course, for Tech to put itself in position to knock off No. 9 Arizona today, it will probably have to do better than the 3-for-21 output from the perimeter it had in an 84-75 win against Jackson State on Monday.
The Red Raiders are shooting just 28 percent (26 of 94) from beyond the arc this season. Could facing Arizona be the elixir Tech needs to get back on track from deep?
Arizona opponents have shot 37 percent from 3-point range this season, a defensive total that ranks 10th in the Pac-12.
One player who could help the Tech 3-point game is forward Jaye Crockett. Though he’s just 2 of 6 from the perimeter this season, Crockett has already made half as many 3-pointers as he did last season. His ability to hit a 3 from time to time at the top of the key coming off a pick-and-pop play could help Tech spread the court.
“Are you trying to give my scouting report away?” Walker mused when asked about Crockett’s ability to contribute from long range. “I think it’s great. I don’t think he shoots that many 3s. It’s definitely a situation where if a team tries to head or trap ball screens, when you pitch it back to him he can not only shoot it but drive it.”
Saturday will mark the first time Tech’s Chris Walker and Arizona’s Sean Miller have gone head to head as coaches, but their history extends back to their time as college players.
While Walker was playing point guard for Villanova, Miller was playing the same position for Pittsburgh. Walker’s teams had a 4-3 edge against Miller’s squads during the era, but the Tech coach said only one of those games sticks out for him.
“When I was a freshman, I sprained my ankle the day before the Pitt game,” Walker recalled this week. “It was a big game. I think they were ranked. I made a game-winning shot with 10 seconds left to go in the game. So that’s the only memory I have of Pitt. We always had good battles against them. Sean was a very good player, a very good shooter, and it’s no accident that he’s a good coach.”
The Red Raiders have had plenty thrown on their plates since Chris Walker took over as interim coach two months ago. He’s implemented a handful of new offensive and defensive schemes in a short time period, including a press the team has used often in its first four games.
It’s a difficult learning curve for any player but even more so for sophomore forward Jordan Tolbert, who missed almost two weeks of preseason practices while mourning the death of his father.
It has forced Tolbert to play catch-up. He scored 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting in Tech’s season-opening win against Prairie View A&M, but he has averaged less than nine points per game since while figuring out how to involve himself in an offense that features more playmakers this season. Still, Walker likes the progress he’s seen from Tolbert as he digests a wealth of new material.
“He went through a difficult change in his life with his father passing away,” Walker said, “and I think Jordan has done a good job so far of picking up things. ... If I can just continue to get him not focus on what you don’t know and focus on what you can do and can control, your effort. As long as he does that, the learning curve will get shorter and shorter and he’ll be doing fine.”
Tolbert, understandably, said his season so far has been “a bumpy road.”
“But it’s always going to be like that in the beginning,” he said. “There’s some growing pains, but I’m not worried about it. I’m looking forward to the game (against Arizona).”
View from the Hill
Arizona’s leading scorer, senior Solomon Hill, said he has benefitted greatly from Arizona’s infusion of young post talent.
At 6-foot-7, Hill, who leads the Wildcats with an average of 14 points per game, was often forced to play in the low post for the Wildcats last season. But with the addition of three freshman who stand 6-foot-8 or taller, Hill — who Arizona coach Sean Miller calls “a throwback” player — has been afforded the opportunity to take advantage of his skills on the perimeter.
To wit, Hill is shooting 45 percent (9 of 20) from behind the arc.
“It’s helped me very much,” Hill said. “You look at what I did last year, and I was being used at the four. I was the one setting screens and rolling. Now I’m running of screens for a shot. ... It makes me more relaxed knowing I can focus on one position.”
Compiled by Nick Kosmider