The dejected Longhorns shuffled off the court in Fort Worth after a tough one-point loss to TCU on Saturday
Days later, those same players had much different expressions leaving the Frank Erwin Center floor following an overtime win over Iowa State.
Such is life in the Big 12, where everyone has a shot to knock off anyone else on any given night. West Virginia beats Kansas. Baylor goes on the road to be Iowa State. Kansas and Oklahoma play three overtimes in an ESPN thriller.
Texas’ first four Big 12 games of this season are an example of conference’s craziness. At times, the Longhorns have looked like a team that could legitimately compete for a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the conference tournament; at others, the team looks like it could be headed for another trip to the College Basketball Invitational.
To try and stop that up-and-down play, head coach Shaka Smart said they’ve been hammering home the phrase “turned on” this week.
“We asked our guys to stop getting so bummed out on the floor,” Smart said. “We had to come up with a positive way to say that. When you are out there on the court, you are either turned on, or you're not.”
The difference between when the Longhorns are turned on and turned off has been night-and-day so far, particularly in the past week.
Saturday against TCU, the offense struggled heavily, shooting just 37 percent and hitting just 3-of-21 shots from beyond the arc. But Tuesday’s win against Iowa State featured a Texas team that almost couldn’t miss. The Longhorns made 48.6 percent of their shots and hit 13 3-pointers.
Smart said he liked how the team responded to the loss to TCU, but they can’t take another step back.
“You have to do it again,” Smart said. “It is not just set in stone now, and we have it all figured out. We have to get better.”
Saturday night’s game against Oklahoma State might be the best shot for the Longhorns to win a Big 12 game for a while. Texas travels to face West Virginia and Kansas next week before returning home to face TCU. The Longhorns are a combined 1-5 on the road against the Mountaineers and Jayhawks.
But the Cowboys won’t be an easy pushover, no matter what their 9-7 overall and 1-3 Big 12 records show. Oklahoma State beat the same TCU team Texas lost to and pushed rival Oklahoma to the brink Wednesday.
The Cowboys are also second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 65 points per game. Senior center Anthony Allen ranks second in the Big 12 with 26 blocks in 15 games, and he figures to make life difficult for a Longhorn team struggling to find consistent inside play.
But Smart said he and the team know what goes into winning, and he hopes they stay on that “process” on Saturday.
“They honor the process for what goes into winning,” Smart said. “We are a ways away from that, but hopefully we can take a step toward that next game.”