Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's February 9 print edition.
The Texas men’s basketball team of late has not resembled the squad that started 10–1 in any way, shape or form.
The loss Saturday to No. 23 Oklahoma State was the fourth in the last five games for the Longhorns, who have slipped from No. 4 to No. 13 in the AP Poll since Jan. 11.
“I told the guys that adversity and challenges are going to occur over the course of the season,” head coach Shaka Smart said Monday. “The difference between the teams that really finish strong and have a very successful season at the end of the day and the ones that don't, are the ones that come closer together through adversity and challenges. We’re in the midst of that right now.”
In the loss to No. 2 Baylor, Texas struggled defensively, allowing 83 points on almost 60% shooting. But in the loss to Oklahoma State, the offense was stagnant. The Longhorns shot 25% from the field, including a rough 0-for-12 combined in the two overtime periods.
“It’s just an ugly reminder in the back of our minds to stay together, stay poised (and) stay connected around our ultimate goal,” senior guard Matt Coleman said after the loss. “There’s still games to be played and it’s just time to be better, to take that next step to getting the mojo back or playing how we know we can play.”
Heading into a very winnable game at Kansas State on Tuesday, Smart said it’s time to put together a solid effort on both sides of the ball.
“I was really pleased with the defensive effort that the guys gave (against Oklahoma State),” Smart said. “(But) when you shoot 25% from the field and you turn the ball over 21 times, obviously you look at (the offensive) end of the floor.”
The past few weeks of close losses and COVID-19 health protocols have tested the Longhorns, but Smart stressed the importance of remaining focused on the present and not getting caught up in the future ramifications of a tough situation.
“There’s a tendency sometimes when you’re winning, or even when you go through a tough stretch like we’ve been through the last couple of weeks, to think about, ‘How does this impact me,’ or, ‘Where do I stand as it relates to the future?’” Smart said. “And that certainly can impact your focus and your concentration on the present.”
The Longhorns now enter a crucial stretch of the season with three of the next four games on the road and the postseason looming on the horizon.
“I don’t think (there’s) a lack of urgency at all,” Smart said. “To me, it's about us getting as connected as we can be around a common goal.”
The grind of a season, on top of adjusting for COVID-19 protocols, weighs heavily on coaches and players across the country, Smart said. The athletes on the team aren't machines despite how routine the protocols feel now.
“These guys are human beings, and they are 18 to 22 year old college student-athletes in a very uncommon time,” Smart said. “We have to make sure that we factor in what they’re dealing with.”