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January 14, 2014

Every detail matters for Smith

Texas Tech has been coming close recently. It pushed similar teams in West Virginia and Texas to the very brink, but it just hasn't been able to close out any of its first three Big 12 games of 2014.

And that's starting to get to head coach Tubby Smith who has a .689 career winning percentage entering Wednesday's game against No. 12 Baylor.

What's it going to take to push through, especially against a team that in all likelihood will be dancing in March?

"I believe this group is right there," Smith said as he built up to deliver his most animated comments ever in Lubbock. "We've got to look at the bright side, look at the glass bottle as half-full and not half-empty. Not look at it as, 'Here we go again.' I think that's something that creeps into your mindset that causes you to not give it your all.

"You've got to lay out for the ball. It's a subconscious -- The only way you can do it is just practice. Practice, practice. Dive on the floor for the loose ball. Practice boxing out. We all did it when we were kids, and we all do it in the backyard on offense. 'Three, two, one, shoot the ball.' Nobody is out there going, 'The ball is up in the air, I've got to box out!' They're not practicing that, so as a coach you've got to force them to do that."

The best was yet to come from Coach Smith.

Tech (8-8, 0-3) has shown quite a bit of promise through three tough league games. It has overcome a second half deficit to tie the game in all three games.

The Red Raiders even led in the final minute of their past two games before giving it up in the final 30 seconds.

"It's more stressful knowing that it's just something so small and something we've been doing," senior forward Jaye Crockett said. "It's just basketball play, like boxing out. Closing out on a shot. Contesting a shot. Stuff like that. It's stuff we know we have to do. We know we have to do when the lights are on and hopefully we can do it Wednesday."

Crockett and company might as well play as close to perfection as they can.

That's been Smith's mantra this season. He knows this particular program has some shortcomings that can't be addressed until another round of recruiting is complete.

Baylor (13-2, 1-1) has been near the top of the Big 12 since the 2008-2009 season. It finally got past just one postseason appearance between 1950 and 2007 and now is knocking on the blue bloods' door on a regular basis.

But it was once around Tech's level. Once much lower, too.

Wednesday's 8 p.m. tipoff is expected to be one of Tech's more challenging games of the year, but this is a program showing more glimmers of hope than it has in recent campaigns.

Point guard Robert Turner broke out of a recent slump for 19 points against Texas on Saturday. That tied Crockett for a team-best Saturday.

More importantly, the team didn't implode against a hostile crowd in its Big 12 opener.

But it did choke with the lead in hand.

The loss is a good teaching point. Every detail matters.

"It's not a bunch of things you have to focus on, it's just these little things you have to worry about," Crockett said. "There's so much stuff going through your mind. It kind of stresses you out a little bit when you think about it. 'Your foot needs to be here. You need to be in front of this guy.' Stuff like that.

"But it's just basketball. You know what you have to do and hopefully you do it when it's game time."

That's the point Smith drove home some 30 hours before a big challenge and great opportunity.

"Out in the backyard you worried about scoring," Smith said. "You're not worried about, 'I better screen to make this play work in order for us to win the game. I better find somebody to box out.' I'd like to see them in the backyard going, 'Three, two, one, he's got to box him out to the left! Oh, he dives and gets to the loose ball and calls timeout!' They're not practicing that, so those are the things we've got to practice to get the job done.

"That's just human nature just to want to be in the limelight. You're not going to be written about, but you would be. 'Boy, he got the rebound to end the game. To end the threat. He got the great block to deny them the score.' You ask me what I think, those are the areas we've got to get better at. That's what I mean by being all in, being committed. Committed to sticking your chest out there and taking one for the team."


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