ith several days off following the Temple game and before a nationally televised game against Texas (Saturday, 3 p.m., ABC), head coach Bruiser Flint and his staff took the opportunity to hit the road and do some recruiting. Prior to his departure, Flint said the teams focus is squarely on the Longhorns, who visit Massachusetts in a rare non-conference February game.
At this time of year, it makes no sense to look back. You can't dwell on the past and put too much emphasis on what could have been or might have been. It is counter productive. It is time to move forward.
For our team, that means putting the Temple game behind us and concentrating on Texas and no one else. Not La Salle on Feb. 9 or our next two away games against Xavier on Feb. 12 and Fordham on Feb. 16. Texas is our next opponent. That is where our focus will be.
There is no doubt that Temple handed us a tough loss. We had a good crowd on hand at the Mullins Center and we were coming off a great road trip against Duquesne and Virginia Tech. We were ready. Temple, however, is simply a better team than we are right now. We would have had to play a perfect game to beat them. With Pepe Sanchez back running the show, the Owls are starting to look like the team many thought could advance to the NCAA Final Four. They are good.
We now move on to play another outstanding team in Texas (16-6). The game is on national television (ABC) and the Longhorns are ranked among the best 15 teams in the nation. The game has two dynamics working. First, we have to gather ourselves following the Temple loss. Secondly, Texas got absolutely pounded by Oklahoma, 83-59, in its last game. Texas certainly doesn't want to lose to us with games against Texas Tech and Missouri up next.
Texas is big and strong. The Longhorns look more like football players than basketball players. We'll have to neutralize that advantage the best we can. We expect a physical game. To start, we will have our hands full with 7-foot center Chris Mihm, the Longhorns' leading scorer (18.2 ppg) and rebounder (10.3 rpg). When facing a player of this caliber, you want to neutralize his ability to take over a game. We'll put as many bodies on him and Texas' big forwards as possible. That means in addition to Kitwana Rhymer down low, we'll use Micah Brand and Anthony Oates in situations that call for their strength, size and bulk.
Another concern for us is 6-foot-7 forward Gabe Muoneke (13.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg). He is a tough and physical player and a big reason I feel Texas has the best frontcourt in the Big 12 Conference. When you add 6-foot-8 Chris Owens (9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), a transfer from Tulane into the mix, it presents a great challenge for us. Owens has stepped into the slot previously held by Kris Clack and is second on the team with 25 blocks. But having faced Temple's big frontline, I know we are ready to defend our home court.
I like Texas' guards. They play hard, aggressive basketball -- not unlike the big guys. Darren Kelly, a junior college player from Brown-Mackie (Kan.) JC, has nice size (6-foot-3) and can score (9.1 ppg). He compliments point guard Ivan Wagner (91 assists) well. Wagner has made a complete recovery from off-season knee surgery has had played 599 minutes this season, second best behind Mihm. Another guard, William Clay, is quick and can penetrate and is second on the team in steals with 20. He only has 34 turnovers in 20 games.
Texas plays about seven guys on a regular basis, but when All-Americas like Mihm and Muoneke are on the roster, that is a good nucleus.
We are in the midst of a three-game home stand. La Salle visits the Mullins Center next Wednesday. After starting the season at 6-1, the Explorers went on an eight-game losing streak and have been working on getting back to .500 (7-11, 1-6). La Salle doesn't have a problem scoring. Rasual Butler (18.8 ppg), Victor Thomas (17.6), Donnie Carr (16.8) and Julian Banks (10.0) can all put the ball in the hole. Thomas has really become a force and gives La Salle another offensive option.
The Explorers tend to struggle defensively and they don't have a big-time inside force. However, their scoring prowess worries me. We don't necessarily want to get into racehorse basketball against them. I think an interesting matchup will between Monty Mack and Carr. Donnie missed five games with a pneumonia, but is one of the best players in the A-10.