Depth, attitude have led Texas basketball’s historic turnaround


Shelby Tauber

Sophomore center Prince Ibeh slammed a powerful dunk to reclaim Texas' lead with 3:35 left in their first half Saturday. The Longhorns retained the advantage against the Bears through game's end, overpowering them en route to a 74-60 finish. 

Chris Hummer

Three straight wins over top-25 teams and three different heroes in each game.

Perhaps no one description defines Texas’ season more than that unselfishness. There isn’t a superstar on the floor to guide this group or a first round pick to steer it. Instead, head coach Rick Barnes has constructed a young team with a workman-like attitude, unafraid of success.

The Longhorns (16-4, 5-2 Big 12) smothered No. 24 Baylor, 74-60, on Saturday afternoon to notch their fifth-straight victory in Big 12 play, the last three of which came against No. 8 Iowa State, No. 22 Kansas State and the Bears.

It’s a stretch unmatched in program history; never have the Longhorns toppled top-25 teams in such rapid succession.

Entering the season, Texas had just one upperclassman on its roster, Barnes was on the hot seat and the Longhorns were projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12.

Now, three months later, they’ve almost completely eliminated each of those critiques. The Longhorns’ youth has almost transformed into a positive — they don’t know how to lose. Barnes has likely coached himself into another season at Texas, and a Big 12 title seems more likely than a poor in-conference record.

Last season, the Longhorns were marred by talent that didn’t transfer to on-court gains, causing Texas to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15-year tenure in Austin. When five scholarship players left the program during the last offseason, Texas appeared to have a rebuilding season ahead of it. Nonetheless, the departure of those players seems to have lifted a weight from it.

All of the current Longhorns talked about a new attitude surrounding the team before the season. Words like that rarely translate to much, but Texas provided evidence to back up the talk against Baylor.

Sophomore guard Demarcus Holland shadowed the Bears’ 3-point specialists Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery, holding them to a combined five points. Sophomore center Cameron Ridley showed incomparable growth from last season with a 14-rebound performance against Baylor’s superstar center Isaiah Austin. And, perhaps most impressively, freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor, an unheralded 3-star recruit, notched a career-high 27 points.

The next game, this cast of characters might, and probably will, step to the side for another set. Five Longhorns have led the team in scoring this season and four players average double figures. It’s a nightly version of Russian roulette for the spotlight, but no one on the roster shies away when it’s his turn. Texas goes 10 deep, and each of its scholarship players has made a significant contribution at some point this year.

The impossible has become historic for the Longhorns. Only one question remains: Who will step up next?