Longhorns gear up for tough home schedule to finish season

Jacob Martella

The Longhorns struggled last week on the road against ranked teams, but there’s no time to lick their wounds.

Texas faces four more ranked opponents over the next two weeks, including No. 10 West Virginia, No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Oklahoma. But with each of those four games coming at home, some might say that Texas’ schedule is favorable for a decent finish to the season.

Head coach Shaka Smart, however, isn’t in that camp.

“Favorable would be playing Kenyon College, where I played,” Smart said.

The Frank Erwin Center is not what the Allen Fieldhouse is to Kansas, but it has been a part of the Longhorns’ success this season.

Texas has already taken down then-No. 3 North Carolina and then-No. 17 Iowa State in Austin. And the lone blemish on the 11–1 home record came against UConn just days after senior center Cameron Ridley went down with a foot injury.

The home-court advantage will be crucial for a Longhorn team looking to rebuild momentum after a week of struggles on the road. After winning seven of eight games since early January, Texas went 0-2 last week against Oklahoma and Iowa State.

“It’s nice to be coming back home — that’s for sure,” Smart said.

The defeats likely won’t change the Longhorns’ status for the NCAA tournament — Texas remained No. 24 in the AP poll on Monday — but they are missed opportunities to pad their resume. Still, Smart said those losses might help them in the long run.

“Sometimes a loss, or a couple of losses, can remind you of what you need to improve on,” Smart said. “We’re battling human nature.”

The Longhorns took down Tuesday’s opponent, West Virginia, 56-49 in Morgantown. But, the Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in scoring defense and offensive rebounds and are a top-10 team. West Virginia pulled down 24 offensive rebounds in that first meeting, something that bothered Smart after that game.

“Defensively, the glaring thing is that we can’t give them 28 rebounds,” Smart said.

If the Longhorns are to find success in their remaining contests and avoid last year’s fate — where they lost the last four games of February and barely made the tournament — Smart said it will be all on the players.

“If we’re able to do better in February and March than maybe these guys have done in the past, it’s going to be because the players emerged and step forward and get better and are able to do things that go into winning,” Smart said.