By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Texas is back in the NCAA Tournament after missing last year and ending a streak of 14 consecutive trips to March Madness.
Texas is the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Regional and will take on No. 10 seed Arizona State at 8:40 p.m. at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc.
"This is a chance for us to do something none of us has done before," said sophomore guard Javan Felix, the team's second-leading scorer. "We think we can show people we still have it in us."
After winning seven consecutive games in the middle of January, including a school record four in a row against ranked opponents, Texas lost six of 11 to finish the season with an 11-7 record in league play.
The Longhorns were picked to finish eighth but surpassed that despite a young team. Junior forward Jonathan Holmes is the only player on the roster who has played in an NCAA Tournament game. He leads the team in scoring at 13 per game and is second in rebounding with 7.2 boards per contest.
Holmes told the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday that he plans to return for his senior season.
"First of all, I don't feel I'm anywhere as good as I need to be or could be," he said. "Just what we have going right now, this year could be a special year. I think looking forward, we could make it even more special, if that's possible. But right now, everyone's mind is focused on the (NCAA) tournament."
Texas' young backcourt will need to slow down Arizona guard Jahii Carson. The sophomore, who has already stated his intention to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft, averages 18.6 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game.
"We've been struggling a little lately," said Texas freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor, who will probably be one of the UT players who'll try to slow Carson. "But we'll be ready for anything. When we're physical and establish an inside presence, we'll be hard to beat."
Arizona State senior center Jordan Bachynski is 7-2 and leads the nation with 4.1 block shots per game. He also averages 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
The Sun Devils finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 and are skidding into the post season having lost three in a row and five of the last seven.
"We believe in ourselves,'' Bachynski said. "We've had a rough road lately, but you know, that's behind us."
No. 7 Texas (23-10) vs. No. 10 Arizona State (21-11)
8:40 p.m. Thursday, Milwaukee, CBS.
Probable Texas starters: Javan Felix, 5-11 Soph. G; Demarcus Holland, 6-2 Soph. G; Isaiah Taylor, 6-1 Fr. G; Jonathan Holmes, 6-8 Jr. F; Cameron Ridley, 6-9 Soph. C.
Probable Arizona State starters: Jahii Carson, 5-10 Soph. G; Jordan Bachynski, 7-2 Sr. C; Jermaine Marshall, 6-4 Sr. G; Shaquielle McKissic, 6-3 Sr. G; Eric Jacobsen, 6-10 Soph. F.
Fast breaks: Texas led the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense (39.8) and blocked shots, rejecting 14.3 percent of Big 12 opponents' two-point field goal attempts. … Since the NCAA expanded the tournament field to 64 teams in 1985, the Longhorns are 16-6 in their opening game in the NCAA Tournament. Texas has won five of its last seven NCAA tourney opening-round games. … New Texas athletic director Steve Patterson was the athletic director at Arizona State before taking over in Austin. … Arizona won four games against top 50 RPI teams and those four teams all made the NCAA Tournament. One of those victories was a double-overtime defeat of West Regional No. 1 seed Arizona. … The Sun Devils are a strong defensive team, but they can struggle offensively. Arizona State shot just 45 percent from the floor, which ranked 134th in the country, and are 160th in two-point field goal percentage.