To say Texas’ backs are up against the wall would be an understatement.
The Longhorns have entered must-win territory as they head into Saturday’s crucial home matchup against Iowa State.
Texas really entered the danger zone last week after going on a three-game losing skid, but a string of late defensive stops allowed the Longhorns to get back in the win column with a 62-61 win over TCU on Wednesday.
“We knew we didn’t want to lose four in a row,” junior guard Jase Febres said. “Losing those three really hurt, so we wanted to come out here with extreme effort (and) extreme aggressiveness, and that’s what we did and it showed off.”
Texas’ struggle to win a big game on the road has been evident this season, outside of an early upset over then-ranked Purdue. To pick up a win against a top-three team in the Big 12 standings does wonders for keeping the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
“It’s a huge point for us in the season to win a game like this, especially coming off of our last few, so we knew this was a really, really big game,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “But regardless, there’s always work to do and improvements to make.”
The Longhorns were far from perfect against the Horned Frogs, but they didn’t need to be perfect. With defensive effort previously unforeseen and a sense of cohesiveness as well as clutch shots down the stretch, Texas fought off a late TCU surge to start a key stretch of games.
With the Cyclones heading to Austin, the Longhorns must focus on mitigating key mistakes. Iowa State ranks second in the Big 12 in turnover margin and first in assist-turnover ratio. Against TCU, the Longhorns found a way to overcome some sloppy play.
“We certainly made our share of mistakes, but I thought our guys really responded to that,” Smart said. “They kept playing with the togetherness that you need to have to win on the road.”
Texas will host an Iowa State team on Saturday that is also desperate for a road win. The Cyclones have lost all five games they have played on the road, and are tied with Kansas State at the cellar of the Big 12 standings, only ranking above Oklahoma State.
While Iowa State has struggled this season, Texas has yet to prove it can run away with winnable games. Saturday’s matchup is a chance for Texas to gain momentum and position themselves for a potential late-season run. With only 11 games left in the season, including several tough road games against ranked opponents, the Longhorns can’t let this game slip away.
The defensive aggressiveness that defined Smart’s VCU era has returned, if only for a moment. That, along with a twinge of desperation, could be a recipe for a push. Yet with the gauntlet of Baylor, Texas Tech (twice) and Kansas still remaining, it must start now.
“I think it’s just our will to win,” Febres said. “We want to make the tournament. That’s our biggest goal here. Starting in the second half of the LSU game we showed that aggressiveness and we showed that fight, and you want to carry that onto the next games. We’ve got to go back home, get the win against Iowa State and continue rolling.”