UK Men's Basketball

UT-Arlington coach: Longhorns good match for Cats

Texas-Arlington Coach Scott Cross led his teams against both Kentucky and Texas in recent weeks.
Texas-Arlington Coach Scott Cross led his teams against both Kentucky and Texas in recent weeks. AP

One team in Rupp Arena Friday night will have size and speed and athleticism and physical presence and the looks of a Final Four contender.

And so does Kentucky.

Texas, which plays at Kentucky Friday, can stand up to the Cats literally as well as figuratively, according to someone who should know.

UT Arlington Coach Scott Cross watched Kentucky and Texas from a courtside seat in the last 10 days. UK wiped out his Mavs 92-44 on Nov. 25. Then on Tuesday, Texas beat UT Arlington 63-53. Despite the disparity in final scores, Cross did not see a huge difference between Kentucky and Texas.

"They're not going to beat themselves," he said of the Longhorns on Wednesday. "They are tough and physical and big. They're kind of a well-oiled machine. They do all the little things right. A shot goes up, they've got three guys crashing the boards. On the flip side, shot goes up, they've got five guys blocking out. They play with speed. They've got inside guys who can score."

Pausing to take a breath, Cross added with a chuckle, "I mean, Kentucky's got all of that, too."

One glaring difference hangs over the two teams. Kentucky has a one-two punch at point guard in Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis. Texas has played without its point guard since Isaiah Taylor broke his left wrist in a game against Iowa on Nov. 20. Taylor is not expected to play again until January.

"I think he's a key piece to their team ...," Cross said. "He was the guy who gets in the paint and makes others better and breaks down the defense. He's just a guy who can score. But, more importantly, against a team like Kentucky, he provides more depth."

So far, Kentucky's size has overwhelmed all opponents. Even then-No. 5 Kansas lacked a presence around the basket. Its best front-line player, forward Perry Ellis, continued a career trend of struggle against size (one-of-six shooting, four points, two rebounds).

This season, Texas added 7-foot McDonald's All-American Myles Turner to a front line that includes 6-9 Cameron Ridley, 6-9 Connor Lammert, 6-10 Prince Ibeh (pronounced E-bay, like the website) and 6-8 Jonathan Holmes.

Texas out-did Kentucky in terms of rebound dominance over UT Arlington. UK won the boards 49-29, while Texas outrebounded the Mavs 52-25.

"I still think Kentucky is probably the best team I've ever faced," Cross said as if qualifying an ensuing conclusion. "In terms of matchups, Texas, maybe, is as well-suited as anybody in the country because of their size inside. The depth of Kentucky is something, I think, that is going to be hard for anybody to overcome. Kentucky, they have something that maybe has never ever been seen, at least in my time, with the depth they have at every position.

"I mean, it's a game I can't wait to watch."

After his team lost to Texas, Cross was asked to compare the Longhorns to Kentucky.

"I honestly think they can play with them, without a doubt," he said in the post-game news conference. "When I left Kentucky, I didn't think anyone could play with them. But watching Texas on tape I think they match up very well. ... They probably have as good a chance as anyone in the country to play with them."