A coach can counsel new players until he’s blue in the face on the intensity they’ll face when major-college competition arrives.
But there’s nothing like a little trial by fire to awaken players to the challenges that lay ahead.
“Now we can get their attention a little bit more,” Tech Texas basketball coach Chris Walker said after his team was trounced by Arizona, 85-57, inside United Spirit Arena on Saturday.
For all the promise the Red Raiders (4-1) showed in winning their first four games, there was little doubt major-conference competition was going to reveal the growing pains that come on a roster with seven new players and a coach who has had little time to stamp his identity on the program.
Facing an opponent in the Wildcats who were bigger, more experienced and just as fast, the Red Raiders struggled inside and endured long stretches of offensive inactivity. The game illustrated Tech’s need to find other ways to score when its opponent takes away the transition game the Red Raiders want to play.
Frustration led to foul trouble for Jordan Tolbert and Dejan Kravic, who struggled to stay on the floor. Both fouled out midway through the second half. Without the pair on the floor, Tech was forced to rely heavily on its guards, who had trouble penetrating against Arizona’s lengthy defenders.
“That’s going to happen in the Big 12 when you play against bigger teams,” Walker said. “We have to play through it. We have to find a way. It’s just another challenge. That hurts our offense a little bit, and we have to get the guys more involved, because when those guys go out, we become more guard-oriented. At the end of the day, it’s tough to score on teams with that kind of length.”
The optimism Walker has operated with since his hiring as the interim coach two months ago didn’t fade with Saturday’s result. If anything, he said, he was glad his players now have tangible evidence of the kind of improvements they have to make.
“It gives me a chance to get my players’ attention and say, ‘Guys, that’s where we want to be,’” Walker said. “Yeah, they took us to school, but that’s where we’re going to be. If you hang your head, now Tuesday could become a worse loss.”
The Red Raiders will have the chance to bounce back at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when it hosts Northern Kentucky.
Tech forward Jaye Crockett said after the game he didn’t have any sense that his teammates were going to allow any ill feelings from a lopsided loss to linger past Saturday night.
“You can’t dwell on that,” he said. “You win some, you lose some, and you have to bounce back to the next game.
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