Longhorns look for first conference win, improved offense

Akshay Mirchandani

The Longhorns have only played two games this season without senior center Cameron Ridley, but the effects of his absence are already apparent.

Texas has lost both of its games since Ridley went down with a fractured left foot in practice, including its Big 12 opener to Texas Tech on Jan. 2. The team had previously won six straight games.

“Anytime you take arguably your most impactful guy out of the mix, it can be challenging,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “However, your opponent is not going to feel sorry for you. They're not going to play any less hard because you've got a guy out.”

The next team to try and take advantage of the Longhorns without Ridley is Kansas State, who visit the Frank Erwin Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Texas has been noticeably different without its starting center. The Longhorns shot 39 percent and 41.7 percent from the field against UConn and Texas Tech respectively — the first two games Ridley missed.

“We're just not as good as we need to be right now on the offensive end,” Smart said. “Certainly, we're different. We can't throw it in as much inside as we were. But, that's no excuse. We've got to find other ways to score."

The team has struggled to replace Ridley’s production in the frontcourt. Senior center Prince Ibeh recorded 10 rebounds but no points against Texas Tech, while junior forwards Shaquille Cleare and Connor Lammert struggled with fouls.

Isaiah Taylor’s play, however, has been a saving grace for the Longhorns. The junior guard has averaged 26.7 points in his last three games, including a career-high 35 point performance against the Red Raiders.

"I thought in the second half [Taylor] did a good job of being aggressive, getting to the basket and getting to the foul line,” Smart said.

The struggling Texas offense faces a stiff test against Kansas State. The Wildcats are 10-2 and allow just 63.5 points per game, which ranks third in the Big 12.

“I think Kansas State has got a really gritty, tough, aggressive team,” Smart said. “They’re obviously very, very defensive minded. They do a phenomenal job of playing together. I think as I watch tape of them that’s the thing that really struck me — they’re a team.”

It’ll be a chance for both teams to record their first conference win of the season as Texas tries to reinvent itself without Ridley. Smart said the Big 12 is one of the toughest conferences in the country.

“If you ask any coach, they’ll tell you that their league is hard,” Smart said. “But this one, there’s none that are any more challenging certainly from a night to night basis. There’s none that have any more of a level of competitiveness.”