TUCSON — Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith said earlier in the week that Tuesday night’s game at No. 2 Arizona would be a measuring stick for his team, and that’s exactly what the 79-58 loss was.
“We played hard,” freshman guard Aaron Ross said. “Even though we got blew out like we did, we still played hard and competed. That’s why I like my teammates.”
Smith received a balanced scoring effort from his team, led by senior forwards Jaye Crockett and Kader Tapsoba with 11, followed by Ross with 10.
But it wasn’t until the Wildcats opened the game with a 10-0 run that Tech was able to get on the scoreboard. Smith called a hockey-style line change, and on the next play, freshman point guard Randy Onwausor threw a hail Mary to Tapsoba for the slam and Tech’s first points of the evening.
“They just didn’t seem to be clicking,” Smith said of the starting five. “We were missing shots around the basket, so that tells me they weren’t mentally focused. We weren’t contesting shots. I knew right away. I thought we were intimidated when they went on that run. I thought, ‘Hey, you guys are scared. I’m going to put someone else in.’”
Throughout the first half, the Red Raiders would go on offensive runs of their own but could never cut the Wildcat lead to less than five.
A contributing factor to Texas Tech’s ability to go on scoring runs stemmed directly from keeping Arizona out of transition and forcing the Wildcats to play in the half court.
When Arizona did get the ball down low, another Tech defender would slide down and steal the ball.
At the half, Tech was down by only 10 despite poor shooting from the floor and a lack of presence on the glass. But Arizona started the second half on a 12-2 run, topped by a steal by junior point guard T.J. McConnell under the Wildcat basket and a quick outlet pass to junior guard Nick Johnson for the 3-pointer.
“I think we just turned the ball over,” Smith said. “Maybe they were just more aggressive. I think they got more second chance opportunities which is really disappointing. We started a different lineup in the second half because Jordan (Tolbert) had three fouls. We tried to run a certain play and the guys turned it over. They didn’t communicate. It was just careless turnovers.”
Tech’s poor shooting continued through the second half as the Red Raiders finished hitting only 40 percent of their shots.
“Everybody needs to get in the gym everyday,” Ross said. “Tonight we just shot the ball terrible.”
Texas Tech got only 13 points from its guards.
“We’ve got to get more from our guards,” Smith said. “We’re not going to win like that unless guys can make some shots.”
The Wildcats, however, were right at home nailing 49 percent in their first game in the McKale Center after winning the NIT Tip-Off last week in New York City.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon led the Wildcats with 19 points followed by Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson with 18 a piece.
Along with making shots, the Red Raiders struggled on the boards and were out-rebounded 44-22.
“They’re relentless on the boards,” Smith said. “I was impressed with their athleticism down low.”
The Wildcats pulled down 18 offensive boards for 15 second chance points.
“We just weren’t aggressive,” Crockett said. “We just weren’t crashing. They were going up aggressive. They had five bodies in there and we had one or two sometimes. Everybody has to crash from the point to the center.”
Earlier in the week, Smith said he wanted to see his team take care of the basketball and that the Red Raiders did, turning the ball over 13 times in comparison to Arizona’s 15.
One sign of improvement for Texas Tech was its free throw shooting against the Wildcats, hitting 79 percent from the charity stripe, 15-of-19.
“Even though we turned them over a few times, we could never really capitalize on them,” Smith said.