Texas Basketball: 3 takeaways from Longhorns’ tough loss to UConn

Dillon Mitchell, Texas basketball. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Dillon Mitchell, Texas basketball. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /
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A shorthanded and No. 15 ranked Texas basketball team fought hard but ultimately fell short of the No. 5 ranked and defending National Champion UConn Huskies in the final of the Empire Classic on Nov. 20. Texas was down two of its top big men against UConn in the Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but that didn’t keep the team from putting the Huskies and head coach Dan Hurley on upset alert.

Head coach Rodney Terry and the Longhorns got off to a slow start against a well-rounded UConn team that was firing on all cylinders out of the gates. UConn was up by over a dozen points for much of the first half. And the Huskies went into the locker room at halftime up by a score of 46-33.

Dillon Mitchell and No. 15 Texas basketball show resilience, but suffer first loss of the season to No. 5 UConn

Texas battled back to bring the game within single digits down the stretch in the second half. A big three-pointer from senior wing Ithiel Horton got the Longhorns back within four points, down 71-67, with roughly five minutes remaining in the game.

Yet, sophomore forward Alex Karaban and the Huskies hitting some difficult late-shot clock field goals in the second half would ultimately put the Longhorns away. UConn took an eight-point lead after Karaban hit a clutch jump shot late in the shot clock with just over one minute remaining. That would be the dagger for the Longhorns.

Texas moves to 4-1 (0-0 Big 12) on the season following the 81-71 loss to UConn. The next battle for the Longhorns comes on Nov. 26 at home at the Moody Center in Austin against the Wyoming Cowboys.

Here are three takeaways from the Longhorns’ perseverant 10-point loss to UConn in the final of the Empire Classic on Nov. 20.

Dillon Mitchell proving he’s a first-round talent in the NBA Draft

Texas sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell showed up when Texas needed it the most with a short frontcourt rotation in this game. Terry and the Longhorns were down redshirt junior center Kadin Shedrick and senior big man Dylan Disu. Shedrick was held out due to an injury re-aggravated in the win over the Louisville Cardinals in the Empire Classic semifinals on Nov. 19.

Disu hasn’t made his debut this season as he’s working his way back from a lower-body injury and while he gets back into game shape.

In this game, Mitchell carried the load for the Texas frontcourt against a talented group of UConn bigs. He provided the Longhorns a major boost on the glass, which was much needed against a UConn team that ranked fifth in the nation in rebounding percentage entering this game.

Mitchell registered a game-high eight rebounds, including four offensive boards. He had a couple of nice putbacks and gave the Longhorns some valuable possessions back on offense.

But hitting the offensive glass was far from the only way that Mitchell contributed to the Longhorns’ efforts on that end of the floor. Mitchell was Texas’ leading scorer, with a game and career-high 21 points on an efficient 9-of-12 shooting from the field, 0-of-1 from beyond the arc, and 3-of-5 from the free-throw line.

We saw Mitchell drain some nice shots from the mid-range, and he even attempted the third three-point field goal of his career.

Mitchell also distributed the ball well to his teammates from inside the arc. He registered two assists with just one turnover.

On the defensive end of the floor, Mitchell gave the Longhorns a ton of energy. He had two big blocks, four defensive rebounds, and one steal. Mitchell sparked Texas on the defensive end in the second half after allowing 46 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in the game’s first 20 minutes.

Mitchell showed off his NBA-caliber physical tools in this game. But he also displayed a well-rounded two-way game that is a testament to how he’s improved during the offseason. This type of performance against a top-five-ranked opponent on national television is something that will bolster Mitchell’s NBA Draft stock if he decides to declare again in 2024 (which is likely to happen).