In last year’s game on the road against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Longhorns went into halftime down by 17 points with little chance to mount a comeback. Yet the talented team fought their way back to a three-point loss as then-freshman guard Courtney Ramey missed a shot as time expired.
This year, Texas flipped the script. The Longhorns were the dominant squad in Wednesday’s matchup in Stillwater, Oklahoma, winning 76-64.
There were a lot of lessons to be learned from last year’s loss, such as how to come back after facing adversity. Whether it’s a positive or negative, this year’s Texas team has had no shortage of adversity.
“Well, our guys should definitely learn quite a bit from that game,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said before the game. “But I think more importantly, it’s about this year’s team, and it’s about where we are coming off this past week.”
This year, Texas needed a win against Oklahoma State to bring its conference win percentage back to .500 before a huge home game against No. 6 Kansas. It took a continuation of their strong play from last weekend’s game against Kansas State, but the Longhorns got the job done on the road.
“The way that our guys drove and communicated with each other about who we want to be and how we want to play possession by possession really was a difference for us in that game,” Smart said regarding the Kansas State game. “It makes all the difference. I really feel like that’s the biggest key for us — creating that as a staff.”
That communication allowed for a strong, physical defensive effort by the team, which ultimately made the difference in the game. As a tuneup for the Kansas game, the solid defensive performances in back-to-back games bode well, particularly with strong play in the paint.
“Just being as physical as we can,” sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa said postgame. “One thing that we emphasized a lot was making sure that our four and five matched up with their four and five. We wanted to win that matchup, and I’m not sure of the numbers, but I believe we did so.”
Oklahoma State presented a unique challenge in that the team is strong in both transition offense and in three-point shooting. It took strong play from guards such as junior Matt Coleman and current-sophomore Ramey to help limit both elements.
“I think what they do best is transition,” Smart said before the matchup. “We have to do a great job playing transition defense, and that starts with how we play offense and then defending the three-point line. They made a lot of threes last year against us and against a lot of teams.”
The Longhorns relied heavily on the offensive production of Hepa, who led the team with a career-high 15 points. Hepa drained three three-point shots and also contributed to the rebounding effort, bringing down four defensive boards.
“You just shoot open shots,” Hepa said. “I feel like (my teammates and my coaches) have tremendous confidence in me, which ultimately builds confidence in myself.”
While Texas has successfully recovered after losing the first two games of conference play, the Longhorns will have to move on from this win quickly as Kansas awaits them in Austin on Saturday.
“What’s important now is something that we stress,” Hepa said. “Obviously, we can’t get those two games back, but we can go on in conference play and continue this winning streak that we have going.”