Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) celebrates with guard Matt Coleman III (2) during an NCAA basketball game against Baylor on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: It’s either/or time for the Texas men down February stretch

Posted February 6th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Texas manhandled Baylor from start to finish and improve to 5-5 in Big 12 play but will the good play continue?
  • "The games we’ve won, our guards have outplayed their guards," Smart said. "The games we’ve lost, not as much."
  • After all, since starting the season at 5-0 , the Longhorns have not had a win streak longer than three games, and those came against Texas-Arlington, Kansas State (without star Dean Wade) and a bad West Virginia team that is now 2-8 in the league.

Texas throttled Baylor.

This is the start of something big. I can just feel it in my bones.

Or it could just be arthritis in my old joints, and this is something like we’ve seen out of this roller-coaster of a team since November.

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Texas crushed Baylor.

It was a butt-kicking from start to finish for a Longhorns team finally rounding into form.

Or it was a not-unexpected home win by a hungry Texas team over a complacent Bears team that had overlooked a maddeningly inconsistent Texas team and fell 84-72 at the Erwin Center.

Texas beat a Baylor team that, until Kansas State’s win over Kansas on Tuesday night, was ensconced in first place.

That shows Shaka Smart’s plan is working, and his fourth UT team is set to roll in the final eight games of the season.

Or that shows the Bears were due for a letdown after winning their last two games impressively by 30 and 26 points, one of them on the road.

Texas was ready to whip Baylor because of great practices recently.

The Longhorns, from what we hear from Smart, could qualify for the Final Four of practice teams, and guards Kerwin Roach II and Matt Coleman III are taking those habits to the floor on game night.

Or Bears point guard and leading scorer Makai Mason hurt his right foot in practice a couple of days ago and was limited to only 23 total minutes and was completely ineffective. Asked how bad it hurt, Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “Bad enough that he was 1-for-7 for five points with only two assists and three turnovers.”

OK, back to what we think we know.

Texas, it says here, is a good team capable of great play in spurts as well as mind-boggling, head-scratching play in even bigger moments. A team can’t beat Kansas and Baylor by 10 and 12 points, as the Horns have, and not be capable of playing like a good team unless it’s a disguise.

Now sustaining that level of effectiveness is a whole other thing and probably the main reason their head coach is bald. That’s my guess.

After all, since starting the season 5-0 , the Longhorns have not had a win streak longer than three games, and those came against Texas-Arlington, Kansas State (without star Dean Wade) and a bad West Virginia team that is now 2-8 in the league.

So can 5-5 Texas go on the road where it has lost five in a row and hasn’t won since Jan. 2 and take care of business against a last-place Mountaineers team? Or will it stumble over itself and squander a great opportunity to stay on the positive side of .500?

When a reporter asked Smart if games like Texas’ convincing, emphatic victory over a 15-6 Baylor team should serve notice that it can compete with anybody, the coach said, “Oh, no, they’ve known that for a long time. I don’t think we’ve gone into any game wondering if we can compete. It’s about the will to compete on every single play.”

Bingo.

Avoid lapses, in other words. Don’t go into a mental fog. Play smart. Be intense. Remember to box out. Get down in your stance.

Little things. Fundamental things. Winning things.

That’s what Smart has desperately tried to emphasize and inject into his team’s psyche, especially the mindsets of his two top guards. Maybe it’s getting through because Roach and Coleman combined for 39 points and nine rebounds and seven assists.

“The games we’ve won, our guards have outplayed their guards,” Smart said. “The games we’ve lost, not as much.”

It’s not quite as simple as that, but the guards’ mercurial play has been more telling than any other factor. Big man Jaxson Hayes is going to give Texas a few monster dunks and blocked shots. Dylan Osetkowski didn’t score all that much Wednesday but has been posting up well, staying away from the perimeter where he’s a 23-percent shooter from long range, playing more forcefully in the paint and leading in huddles. Jase Febres, by far the team’s best shooter, hit three triples.

But as Roach and Coleman and to a certain extent Courtney Ramey go, so goes Texas.

Smart has borrowed from some other Big 12 greats like West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Kansas’ lethal Frank Mason and Devonte Graham from past years as mentors that Texas guards could try to emulate.

“The key again is having a serious approach,” Smart said. “Every little detail that goes into winning is like life and death to those guys. That’s what we’re trying to get Matt and Snoop to do.”

Little things like attacking, defending, going downhill, getting to the free throw line. Winning things.

Do that consistently, and maybe Texas will string together three, four, five wins in a row.

Or lose to a bad West Virginia team to again put its NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy.

Or maybe it’s just my arthritis.

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