Texas head coach Shaka Smart looks at the scoreboard after falling to Kansas 77-67 during a Big 12 basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Texas’ lost season rests at Shaka Smart’s door

Posted February 26th, 2017

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Story highlights
  • It may not seem like much, but improving to 11-19 and 5-12 with a win is much more important than it looks on the surface.
  • For now the head coach has to keep his chin up and not give any indication that his confidence is shaken, even if it’s obvious that it is.
  • Smart hasn’t come right out and said it, but this lost season rests at his door.

Shaka Smart believes it’s his job to breathe life into his team.

Of course it is, but the question has to be: Who is breathing life into Shaka?

“Nobody, really,” he said after Texas’ fifth straight loss, this one coming 77-67 to a soon-to-be-top-ranked Kansas team which clinched its 13th Big 12 regular season title. “It’s about the guys.”

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Smart’s team has played with commendable effort the whole season but the familiar refrain has been one of hanging in there early, but not being good enough to close the deal at the end. Commendable effort is nice, but this is a bottom-line business and the results are unacceptable at 10-19 overall and 4-12 in Big 12 play.

“All of us are obviously disappointed in our how season has gone so far,” he said. “But playing hard is the first step. The next step is understanding what the right play is to make.”

Smart hasn’t been through a season like this, at least not as a head coach. Now he never experienced a winning season in four years as as the point guard at Kenyon College where he finished as the career leader in assists, but dishing out dimes in Gambier, Ohio had to feel like child’s play compared to the demands of winning ballgames at a major program at a salary of $3 million per year.

It’s been a historically awful season. Smart hasn’t come right out and said it, but this lost season rests at his door. The old cliche’ rings true: players win games and coaches lose games. This team realized long ago that this wasn’t going to end with the team gathered around a flat screen, munching on pizza while waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

For now the head coach has to keep his chin up and not give any indication that his confidence is shaken, even if it’s obvious that it is.

“He’s handling it good,” said guard Andrew Jones. “He keeps the spirits high in the locker room and makes sure we are motivated in every way possible. He hasn’t killed anybody’s spirits on this team.”

With two games and what is likely a brief stay in the conference tourney — Texas is 0-13 in games played away from the Erwin Center — Smart needs to find a way to avoid spending the offseason with a long losing streak in the final month of the season hanging over this team’s head. It may not seem like much, but improving to 11-19 and 5-12 with a win is much more important than it looks on the surface.

“It’s my job as a coach to get these guys to own this,” Smart said after quoting Alabama coach Nick Saban, who famously said “it takes what it takes,” to win games.

He’s right on both counts. He also understands that there is plenty of blame to go around for what we’ve witnessed this season.

Above all else, ultimate responsibility starts with the dude in his bathroom mirror.

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