Longhorns look for defensive improvement against UT-Arlington Mavericks

Akshay Mirchandani

Almost 10 years ago, head coach Shaka Smart was at a high school game to recruit. What he saw amazed him. The team he was watching forced about 30 turnovers.

Smart talked to the coach after the game, asking how his team was so effective in the press — one of Smart’s favorite things to do. The coach’s words stayed with Smart.

“He said, ‘Guys wanting to press tonight,’” Smart said. “That always stuck me. We have to develop that mentality if we’re going to play that way.”

The Longhorns have the chance to further that mentality on Tuesday when the UT-Arlington Mavericks visit the Frank Erwin Center at 7 p.m.

Texas comes off a sixth-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. The team’s defense struggled, allowing its three opponents to average 49.7 percent shooting.

After trailing by 13 against Michigan, the Longhorns went to a full-court press — one of Smart’s signatures at VCU. The Longhorns still lost the fifth-place match, but their defense brought them back in the game. Now, the team wants to keep building.

“I thought we did a good job of putting some stops together in the second half, but it wasn’t enough,” senior guard Javan Felix said. “And that’s something that we have to go back to the drawing board with and take more pride in and work on.”

The Mavericks gave the Longhorns another measuring stick to test their defensive scheme and overall strength. UTA is a 5-1 Sun Belt Conference team that upset Memphis and Ohio State on the road. The Mavericks’ win snapped Ohio State’s 61-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents.

“Both those games, they just went in there and beat those teams,” Smart said. “It wasn’t like they hit some fluke shot. They didn’t even particularly shoot that well in either one of those games. That’s the thing that’s really impressive about their team.”

The game is the first in a five-game home stand for the Longhorns. Texas has played one game at home this season and won’t travel again until they play Stanford on Dec. 19. Smart said the home stretch comes at a good time for the Longhorns.

“We want to keep playing better and better at home,” Smart said. “Because college basketball, everything starts there. You want to take care of business on your home floor.”

Smart said to improve its 2-3 record, Texas must communicate on defense.

“The commitment on great teams is to the things that go into winning,” Smart said. “So whether it’s talking on defense or whether it’s caring about each other or whether it’s sprinting the floor.”