Winning on the road is difficult, and winning on the road against a ranked team is even more so. But beating No. 3 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is almost impossible, and Texas found that out Monday.
The Longhorns failed to take advantage of the opportunity to bolster their résumé on Monday night against the Jayhawks, losing 58-69 in a game that could have moved the team squarely onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
After winning the last two games by a combined five points, Texas came into the matchup with some momentum. A clutch performance by sophomore guard Courtney Ramey against the Iowa State Cyclones had the Longhorns rolling into the game.
“Each win is important for us,” Ramey said following the victory over Iowa State. “Every game really is just taking it one game at a time and not putting anybody above anybody. Iowa State was our Kansas today, and Kansas is going to be Kansas on Monday.”
The matchup was a rematch of a close game that took place in Austin on Jan. 18, during which the Longhorns gave away a halftime lead to lose by nine. Additionally, the loss to Kansas was a part of two games in a three-day stretch that ended with a blowout at the hands of the Mountaineers.
Monday’s story saw the same end result. The Jayhawks’ aggressive style of play drew Texas junior forward Jericho Sims into early foul trouble, forcing center forward Will Baker and junior forward Royce Hamm Jr. to match up with one of the best big men in the Big 12: senior center Udoka Azubuike.
The Texas players were fighting through fatigue after having played another game only two nights prior. But the emotions of the moment were enough to fuel the Longhorns as they tried to fight their way back into the game late into the first half, earning a two-point lead to close out the half.
“Just the conviction to hang in there,” head coach Shaka Smart said at halftime. “They’re going to make tough shots because they’re a good team. We got to have the conviction to stay with our plans and stick together and play twenty more minutes.”
However, that conviction didn’t stick around for long. The Jayhawks were able to regain the lead quickly, scoring four straight to start the second half. They would keep the Longhorns at arm’s length for the first 10 minutes before stretching their lead to double digits with less than eight minutes to go. They would stay ahead for the rest of the game.
While very few expected the Longhorns to compete with the more talented team on the road two days removed from an emotional comeback victory, the loss does not bode well for Texas’ tournament hopes. However, the Longhorns will have to respond before their next matchup against Texas Tech at home.
“When the game’s not going perfect for you individually, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself,” Smart said. “You have to do what’s next. Just try to hang in there and continue to fight and stay together.”