After Oklahoma State fell to Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon, the Texas Tech men’s basketball team was the only undefeated team in the Big 12 for almost three hours.
The feat was short-lived. The No. 9-ranked Arizona Wildcats entered United Spirit Arena and ended the Red Raiders’ four-game winning streak Saturday evening with an 85-57 victory.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said he thought the atmosphere in United Spirit Arena provided a true road test for the Wildcats.
“Well, we’re very excited to leave Lubbock with a win,” he said. “I thought that the crowd here was outstanding. I know it could have been maybe filled a little bit more, but the fans that were here, you could really feel it. It was a true road game for us.”
The Red Raiders were never able to get their offense clicking. Tech shot 33 percent in the first half and 34.9 percent for the game. There also was an eight-minute stretch during the game in which the Red Raiders went without a bucket, until junior forward Kader Tapsoba ended the streak.
Tech coach Chris Walker said Arizona did a good job of taking the Red Raiders out of their comfort zone and not letting them back in the game.
“I think they’re just a really good team,” Walker said. “The court is so small with guys that long. I think if we go back and look at the tape, there are a lot of shots that we just missed. We just missed some chippies. We had that the last couple (of) games inside. We’re just not finishing. To go back and play defense every single time after missing a shot like that gets deflating to those guys.
On top of that, they haven’t had to experience that. We had that against Jackson State but we weren’t playing Jackson State tonight. You play a team, they can get you down, keep you down; they play with poise.”
Tech junior forward Jaye Crockett led the team in scoring for the second consecutive game. This also was the second consecutive game Crockett played the most minutes of all Tech players. Crockett saw 29 minutes of action off the bench.
The efficacy of Arizona’s offense increased as the game progressed. Tech’s full-court press flustered Arizona early in the first half as the Wildcats shot nearly 52 percent. Arizona shot 63 percent in the second half and its offense seemed to have settled into Tech’s chaotic style of play.
Jim Thrash, a scout for the Charlotte Bobcats, said he thought the game would be much closer in the first half. Tech entered halftime trailing 45-28.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by sophomore guard Nick Johnson. Johnson scored 18 points on 7-11 from the field, including two 3-point shots.
Walker said he thinks Johnson and the Wildcats have the potential to reach the Final Four.
“We played a really, really good team tonight,” he said. “I think that team has a chance down the road to be in the Final Four. They have experienced guards and size, (a) really good coach, and they really did some positive things.”
Tech dealt with foul trouble for a large majority of the game. Sophomore forward Jordan Tolbert and junior forward Dejan Kravic each fouled out in the losing effort.
Crockett said the up-tempo style of play that defines the Red Raiders is tough to play when foul trouble is a prevalent issue.
“Foul trouble kills you,” he said. “You can’t be in foul trouble. We needed the whole bench in the game. We were moving so fast. They were running fast, and we were getting tired. We just needed everybody out there, and that hurt us a lot with the fouls.”
Tech also was outrebounded for the second consecutive game. Tech grabbed 26 rebounds, while the Wildcats pulled down 41 rebounds, which allowed them 16 second-chance points.
Crockett said size has been an issue for Tech, especially with regard to giving up second-chance scoring opportunities.
“We’re not that big,” he said. “A lot of teams are huge in the Big 12. They’ve got a lot of size. We’ve just got to be aggressive and rebound. You can’t give up offensive rebounds.”
The Red Raiders will look to begin a new winning streak when they face Northern Kentucky at 6 p.m. Tuesday in United Spirit Arena.