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Longhorns pose tall task for UM

03/22/2014, 12:00am EDT
By RACHEL LENZI BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Texas’ inside game is team strength


Texas sophomore Cameron Ridley (55) has shed more than 30 pounds since his freshman year and had the game-winning shot against Arizona State on Thursday.

MILWAUKEE — Cameron Ridley scooped up a loose ball from off the floor and with fractions of a second left on the game clock, tossed his final shot at the backboard. It wasn’t graceful or visually appealing. Yet it evaded the swing of a defender, dropped through the net, and beat the clock.

Ridley’s buzzer-beater sealed the Texas men’s basketball team’s 87-85 win over Arizona State on Thursday at the Bradley Center.

It showed why a strong inside presence, combined with some timing and a little luck, is so valuable in basketball.

“We've always tried to play in through Cam,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We have. We need to do that. We've always want to play inside/​out and Cam was terrific [Thursday] night and he's been good. He's been good all year, really.”

No. 2 Michigan faces No. 7 Texas at 5:15 today at the Bradley Center in a third-round Midwest regional game. Texas’ inside presence of Ridley, a 6-foot-9 center, and 6-foot-8 Jonathan Holmes — who combined for 28 points in the win over Arizona State — could become Michigan’s most significant challenge.

The task of defending Texas’ inside players falls on Michigan forwards Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan.

“A player of his size, no, we haven’t seen that in the Big Ten,” Horford said of the 280-pound Ridley. “It’s not a concern because you still have to play the game. You can’t make assumptions just because a player has done something or just because a player is this large, that this specific outcome is inevitable.”

Without forward Mitch McGary, who emerged as a potential NBA prospect last year yet has not played since Dec. 14 because of a back injury and surgery, the Wolverines prepare for a mismatch.

“We've seen this a few times this year,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I don't think we've seen the talent at [forward] that we're going to see in this particular game.

“We got to box out and really do a good job, but I mean it. Sometimes you win games because that ball goes off the rim and you are boxing out hard. With the ball straight up over the rim, they'll be getting a lot of those no matter what we do."

Ridley entered the NCAA tournament averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, and was third in the Big 12 with 71 blocks. Against Arizona State, the 280-pound Houston native had 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Sometimes Ridley appears to lumber up and down the court, but he finds a way to maneuver his bulky frame in prime position to grab rebounds, block shots, and find the basket.

Last month against Kansas, Ridley beat Jayhawks center Joel Embiid with a thunderous two-handed dunk in the Longhorns’ 81-69 win in Austin, which made 11 o’clock news highlight reels.

Off the court, Ridley is almost sheepish, and seemed uncomfortable with the group of reporters and photographers that surrounded his locker Friday during Texas’ player availability.

His sophomore year, he said, was a vast improvement from his first season in Austin. In fact, he said last month that he was ready to transfer to another program.

“Last year, I didn’t feel like I played as good as I could have,” Ridley said. “The college game was faster than what I was used to coming out of high school. The athletes are more physical, stronger, faster, and it was something I had to get used to.”

Since then, Ridley has improved his strength, has shed about 30 pounds since he arrived at Texas as a 317-pound freshman and has become more dogmatic in his role. Remaining consistent, he explained, means not straying from his responsibilities at forward.

“I don’t want to try to force anything,” Ridley said. “I want the game to come to me.”

ANOTHER DAY FOR HAYES: Whitmer graduate Nigel Hayes was one of three players who represented Wisconsin on the news conference podium on Friday at the Bradley Center.

Coming off the bench, the freshman forward had six points Thursday in Wisconsin’s 75-35 win over American in the West regional. The No. 2 Badgers (27-7) face No. 7 Oregon (24-9) today.

Hayes elicited a few laughs Friday when considering Wisconsin’s seed in the West region, in relation to No. 14 Mercer’s upset of No. 3 Duke in the Midwest region.

“I personally fear upsets because of us being a 2 seed,” Hayes said.

“That's something I don't want to think about too much. As far as that goes, we have to make sure we come out every game and take care of business.”

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