Shaka Smart painfully remembers the last time his team had a chance for a three-game win streak in conference play. Over a month ago, Texas was riding high after victories against Kansas State and West Virginia and entered a road matchup against Oklahoma State brimming with confidence.
The Longhorns proceeded to unfold on national television during the first half. They played with an inexplicable lack of energy that turned into a sloppy style of basketball. Texas turned the ball over nine times and did not make a single three despite taking nine attempts.
While Smart’s team closed the gap late after trailing by as many as 19 points, Texas fell short in an uninspiring performance.
“That was as disappointed as I’ve been in our team this year,” Smart said.
Now, the Longhorns are flying high once again. Winners of 3 of its last 4 games, including back-to-back wins last week, Texas will face conference leader Kansas State with an opportunity to get to three consecutive Big 12 victories.
This time, however, Smart believes his players are ready — guided by a better understanding for how difficult it is to play in a conference where every team is capable of winning on any given night.
“I do think our guys are in a better place in terms of humility when it comes to understanding whoever we play in this league, they’re capable of beating us, we’re capable of beating them,” Smart said. “It’s about us playing the game on our terms.”
The turning point came two weeks ago after a humiliating defeat to Georgia that saw the Longhorns give up 98 points to the 104th-ranked scoring offense in all of
Disappointment in the effort swept throughout the Texas locker room after the game. In the practices since, the Longhorns have used the experience as motivation to correct their efforts on the defensive end. The change has been a big factor in their recent success.
“In the past two weeks, we’ve been making efforts and practicing good habits on the defensive end trying to lock down and lock teams up,” guard Kerwin Roach II said. “(If) we just keep doing that and go down and play our basketball on offense, we can beat anybody.”
Changes like that are rooted in a sense of urgency that comes with being a team that lives on the NCAA tournament bubble. Smart tells his players to tune out the noise from tournament projections and what the media says about the team, but he knows his players are surrounded by it every day.
That may not be bad for the Longhorns. Players on the roster believe they can still be the top team in this conference and they want to prove it. A win against the Big 12 leader Tuesday night would be a step in the right direction.
“Right now, it’s crunch time,” guard Matt Coleman III said. “In the league, they talk about five teams, and we’re not one of them, so we know how important road wins are, how important home wins are. We just want to … grab all of those and compete with anyone because we’re capable of doing that.”