No. 23 Texas faces toughest test to date versus Northwestern
It will be a classic confrontation between No. 23 Texas' youthful balance and Northwestern's experience when the two teams square off Monday in the semifinals of the 10th annual Legends Classic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The contest follows the first semifinal game between Notre Dame and Colorado. The losers of Monday's games square off at 2:30 p.m. CST Tuesday while the winners meet at 5 p.m.
The Longhorns are off to a 3-0 start, most recently defeating Eastern Washington 89-52 on Thursday. Sophomore swingman Tevin Mack paced five Texas players in double figures with 19 points off the bench.
No Texas player saw more than 28 minutes of action during the contest (28 by freshman center Jarrett Allen and senior guard Kendal Yancy). Eight UT players saw at least 19 minutes of action.
“At this point last season we had played better competition than we've played this year so everything's relative,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said after Thursday's win. “Now the question is: Can we go on the road? The competition level will go up in New York. We will see better athletes. We will see more size. We will see better teams. How do we respond to that?”
In his two games, Mack paces Texas with an average of 16.5 points per contest. He leads six different Texas players who are averaging double figures in scoring through their first three games. Five Longhorns are averaging at least 5.0 rebounds per game.
Texas has excellent on the defensive end as well, especially at running shooters off the 3-point line. Opponents are shooting just 33.5 percent from the field against the Longhorns. Texas has limited its first three opponents to 21.8 percent (17-of- 78) shooting from 3-point range and held Eastern Washington to 14.3 percent (3-21) from beyond the arc in Thursday's victory.
Through the Longhorns' first three contests, Yancy ranks second on the squad in scoring (13.7 ppg), leads the team in steals (5) and is tied for the team lead in minutes (29.3 mpg). He has converted 54.2 percent (13-24) from the floor and 84.6 percent (11-13) free throws this season.
“We're pretty confident right now and we are in a good place,” Yancy said. “We just have to keep improving. We have a lot of young guys who are willing to give it their all, willing to improve and grow every day. Just the energy they bring is good for the team in general.”
Northwestern (2-1) heads to the Big Apple off a buzzer-beating 70-68 loss at Butler on Wednesday.
“We went into that game expecting to win, so it hurt,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “In the past, maybe it was okay to go to Butler and play them to the last shot of the game. To us, that's not what we were looking for. I sensed an anger in the team last night, which I liked. They know it was a game we very well could have got. We just didn't close the deal.”
Sophomore forward Vic Law led four Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, including hitting 5 of 6 3-point attempts. The contest featured 17 ties and 16 lead changes.
“I'm confident in how our team's going to be,” Law said. “But I'm angry that we let it slip away. We have to win games like (the loss to Butler). It's as simple as that.”
Law has enjoyed a solid return to the Northwestern attack after missing all of the 2015-16 campaign due to shoulder injury. He's the team's leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, has paced the Wildcats in scoring in all three games and tallied at least 17 points in each contest, including a career-high 26 vs. Eastern Washington on Nov. 14. Through three games he is shooting 64.5 percent from the field (20-of-31).
Northwestern returns 61.4 percent of its scoring and 71.4 percent of its rebounding from a year ago. The Wildcats welcome back three starters and 10 letter winners overall from a team that won 20 regular-season games for the first time in school history.
It's been 42 years since Texas and Northwestern have played on the basketball court, and the teams have split two previous meetings. The Wildcats won 73-71 on Dec. 21, 1965 in Memphis, Tenn., while the Longhorns won 63-59 on Dec. 23, 1974 in Austin.
The Wildcats and Longhorns already have one common opponent this season: Eastern Washington. Northwestern beat the Eagles 86-72 on Nov. 14 in Evanston while Texas rumbled past EWU 85-52 three nights later in Austin.