Longhorns set to open season against Washington in China

Jacob Martella

At 3:30 a.m. last Saturday, the Longhorns loaded onto buses following an exhibition win over Tarleton State. The team trekked three hours north to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and embarked on a 15-hour, 35-minute flight to Shanghai, China.

Now, nearly a week after their arrival, the Longhorns face Washington in their season opener.

“We’ve got to make sure that we prepare for this game,” head coach Shaka Smart said.

The game — part of a Pac-12 initiative ­— will be the first regular-season competition between American sports teams in China.

Leading up to the game, Texas trained at Olympic facilities and visited the Alibaba headquarters, a Google-esque company sponsoring the event. The team also met NBA legend Bill Walton during Tuesday’s practice.

Smart said the trip is more than a mid-semester vacation.

“It’s a game that counts,” Smart said. “At the end of the year in March, that game is going to be on our ledger one way or another.”

The Longhorns come into the season opener riding momentum from the win over Tarleton State. Texas dominated the D-II contender, knocking down 12-of-30 shots from beyond the arc.

Smart said the high number of 3-point attempts don’t worry him.

“You can’t coach every shot,” Smart said. “If you try and do that, you’ll have guys that are hesitant.”

The Longhorns’ Friday night opponent, Washington, enters this season hoping to improve. The Huskies missed the NCAA and NIT tournaments each of the last three seasons, finishing 5-13 in the Pac-12 last year.

Washington returns senior guard Andrew Andrews, who posted 15 points per game last year, but could start up to three players who didn’t play last season.

Still, Smart said Texas needs progress.

“We have a chance to do some really good things this year,” Smart said. “I’ve got to make sure from our coaching staff’s standpoint that our focus stays on getting better each day.”

The team will return to the U.S. following the game. The Longhorns then take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at home on Nov. 21.