For Longhorns to make a run, they have to handle success better

Akshay Mirchandani

Shaka Smart was worried on Sunday. 

The Longhorns were coming off an emotional 76-63 win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday, thanks in part to a 22-0 run.

But the text messages, pats on the back and constant congratulations to his team had the head coach nervous. He made it known, though, and reminded his team to stay focused for Monday’s game against No. 1
Kansas — Senior Night. 

The result? A deflating 86-56 loss to the Jayhawks at the Frank Erwin Center.

“I didn’t know that we would be able to handle that level of success,” Smart said. “I addressed it with the team, really tried to get them in the right place, but I was unsuccessful in stemming that tide.”

There wasn’t a lot to take from Monday’s contest, but the one thing that was evident is the Longhorns need to handle success better. 

It’s not the first time Texas has struggled with that this season. After beating then-No. 3 North Carolina on Dec. 12, Texas came out flat against Appalachian State but were able to win thanks to the talent disparity. The Longhorns also beat then-No. 10 West Virginia earlier in February but were run off their home floor by then-No. 24 Baylor in the next game. 

“It’s important to respond to adversity, and we got to get better at that as evidenced by the start of the Baylor game, the start of the Kansas game last night,” Smart said. “But we also have to get better at responding when we do have success.”

Monday certainly was a tough situation for the Longhorns with a two-day turnaround along with friends and families in town for Senior Night. But not competing against the No. 1 team in the land at home should never happen. The intensity simply wasn’t there. 

“We just have to make playing defense a consistent thing for us,” senior guard Javan Felix said. “When we play defense, we’re at our best and doing really well — that’s the biggest thing for us. Especially going
into March.”

This isn’t the VCU team that went to the Final Four, which Smart called highly motivated and killers. Smart can try and make sure his players are ready to play all he wants, but at some point, they will have to take it
upon themselves. 

It’s still unclear where Texas will finish in the Big 12 standings and what seed it will have for the conference tournament. Perhaps more than any other team, the Longhorns could use a deep run in the Big 12 tournament to propel them into the NCAAs with momentum. 

But to do that, the Longhorns have to learn not to be satisfied with a single big win. They’ve shown the ability to do that after going on a winning streak in January, but it has to be consistent. 

“You got to want more,” Smart said. “I mean, yeah, we had a great win against Oklahoma. Terrific, congratulations, but you got to want more. And that’s something that as a program we’re going to need to make progress in.”