Since the first day he took over as Texas Tech’s interim basketball coach back in October, Chris Walker has stressed he wouldn’t set a win-loss goal for his young team.
Instead his aim from the start has been getting the Red Raiders to play their best basketball at the end of the season — to peak in March.
When Tech tips off against Baylor at 3 p.m. Saturday in Waco, the game should present a barometer for that process, a chance to gauge how far the squad has come with the second half of Big 12 Conference play set to begin.
The Bears, who like the Red Raiders are riding a three-game losing streak, manhandled Tech to the tune of an 82-48 win on Jan. 8. Walker said his bunch is anxious to prove that contest was “an aberration.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us to prove that we are much improved from the first time we played them,” he said. “We just have to come out and be a team that plays Texas Tech basketball. ... Our issue is making sure we can duplicate what we did on the turnover side last game and also do a better job of toughness with 50-50 balls and getting second-chance rebounds.”
Tech is coming off a 68-59 loss to Kansas State in which it turned the ball over only four times, its lowest total in a game in almost a decade. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, that breakthrough came during the same game in which they were nearly doubled up on the glass, 38-20, and failed to grab crucial rebounds during the game’s closing minutes.
“When you plug one leak another one springs,” Walker said after the game.
Putting all facets together in one game has been an elusive task for Tech this season, but the Red Raiders believe they are getting closer to that goal.
“We just need to take all the positives we’ve seen and put them together,” said Jordan Tolbert, who scored a season-high 19 points on Tuesday and has reached double figures in five straight games. “We just need to go on a run.”
Tolbert said the team, despite a 2-7 league record, has a much brighter outlook heading into the second half than it did last season, when Tech lost its first 11 games before earning its lone Big 12 win.
“Each game something new comes out,” he said. “Something good happens.”
There wasn’t much good to take out of Tech’s first meeting with the Bears, when the Red Raiders shot just 30.5 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 15 times and lost the rebounding battle, 41-31.
But that was just the second Big 12 game in the careers of most the players on Tech’s roster. Walker believes his group is beginning to understand what it takes to compete in the league.
“They’re now developing a reservoir of things to look at and say, ‘OK, let’s not do that again,’” Walker said. “Now they have a guide where you can say, ‘Guys, this is what will happen if this happens to you.’ Hopefully the concentration is there where we don’t duplicate some of the past mistakes.”
The Bears, meanwhile, enter Saturday’s game desperate for a win after three straight losses by single digits, including a heartbreaking overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Wednesday, in which Markel Brown drove the length of the court and hit a layup just before the clock expired.
Tech has lost three straight road games after winning its road opener against TCU.
“It’s been on my mind for a bit, our last game against (Baylor),” Tolbert said, “so it’s motivation.”
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