Longhorns begin tough road trip with No. 6 West Virginia

Akshay Mirchandani

Shaka Smart kept his poker face on when he met with the media on Monday.

The head coach didn’t venture to call this week Texas’ biggest of the season — a week in which the Longhorns play two top 10 teams on the road. Smart also didn’t discuss this Saturday’s match-up with No. 3 Kansas, the team that has been the class of the Big 12 with 11-straight conference titles. 

“I haven’t thought about it,” Smart said when asked about playing Kansas. 

Instead, Smart kept the focus on the first task of this week, facing No. 6 West Virginia today at 6 p.m. in Morgantown — a place where the Mountaineers are 20–3 in their last 23 home games. 

“If they can’t focus on the No. 6 team in the country on the road, then you got a problem,” Smart said. “Today, we just talked about West Virginia and talked about our plan.”

The weekend match-up with Kansas is one that will garner attention, but Smart’s emphasis on West Virginia is warranted. The Mountaineers took down the Jayhawks in Morgantown last week, costing Kansas its No. 1 AP ranking. West Virginia also nearly took down Oklahoma, the current No. 1 team in the country, but fell 70-68 in Norman. 

“We’re obviously going to be focused on West Virginia 110 percent and save Kansas for after that,” senior forward Connor Lammert said. “It’s going to be a great measuring stick for us.”

The Longhorns will also look to put a consistent game together on Wednesday. Texas built a 23-point lead against Oklahoma State on Saturday but nearly blew it. Part of the problem was Texas’ poor 3-point shooting. The Longhorns made 9-of-27 threes against the Cowboys. 

The Longhorns’ reliance on their 3-point shots bodes poorly against West Virginia, as the Mountaineers are No. 1 in the Big 12 in 3-point defense. Smart said Texas needs to learn to drive to the rim more. 

“I would say 30 or 40 percent of the threes we took, we really could have driven the ball,” Smart said. “There was a couple of possessions where [Kerwin Roach] drove from the right corner and got fouled going to the basket. We could do that more often.”

At 11–6 overall and 3–2 in the Big 12, the Longhorns check in at No. 5 in the Big 12 standings. This week will say a lot about how the Longhorns stack up against some of the conference’s elites, but Smart continues to take it one game at a time.

“You can call it whatever you want,” Smart said. “I’m just focused on the West Virginia week, but it’s certainly a big challenge.”