Prove it again, Texas.
Go win at Iowa State on Saturday.
That should be the mantra of Shaka Smart’s crew. The Horns saved their season with Tuesday’s 73-63 win over No. 7 Kansas, but so much work remains. Smart’s seat may have cooled a bit but some toe stubs from earlier in the season demand Texas build upon this new-found momentum.
It must have felt great for this win-starved fan base to witness the home team knock down jump shots, defend the paint and the perimeter, make timely free throws and answer its opponent’s runs time and time again.
You know, play good basketball.
Smart hasn’t solved what has ailed his team since its 5-0 start, but things aren’t nearly as calamitous as they appeared to be just last weekend when the Horns gave up 98 points to Georgia, one of the worst teams in the SEC. Kansas was a nice response, but Tuesday’s win will lose its significance if Texas gets worked in Ames.
In most seasons, a 4-4 conference record wouldn’t rank anywhere near the top of the conference. But the Longhorns are right there, just like a lot of other teams. Six of them sit at least four wins as we round the turn into the money games. If anything, the Jayhawks’ 14-year stranglehold on the Big 12 could soon be at an end.
“This is a league where teams are going to continue to go at each other and you have to find a way to take care of business at home. Then you have to go out on the road and let your hair down and attack,” Smart said. “I don’t know how many losses it will be that win this league, but I’m going to guess probaby six. So five or six.”
As for the 12-9 Longhorns, they needed a win like this — any dub over any Kansas team at any time is good for business — to hold strong to the belief that this season is not in tatters. Could it be possible that we just witnessed the first major piece of proof that these players have finally taken ownership of this thing? Or was it just Texas’ last blaze of glory?
Only time will tell.
The guys scheduled a players-only meeting 15 minutes before Tuesday’s shoot-around and it ran 15 minutes over. “Sense of urgency” was a term that was thrown around more than once by some accounts. Never was a coach happier to see a team arrive late to a shoot-around.
“You had guys in there getting connected,” Smart said.
Leadership can’t be faked — real dogs can see through a poser without even trying — so what we’re witnessing from guys like Dylan Osetkowski, who has been a man over these last few games, and Kerwin Roach II cannot be understated. Perhaps it’s the realization that as seniors, their window is a lot smaller if they want to break the program’s four-year drought since it last won an NCAA tournament game. Or maybe they’re just tired of losing.
“We just have to stay within each other,” Roach said. “We have to play within our guidelines and principles and what we practice every day. We’ve been down this road before. ”
Now it’s time to go up the road and give the same effort against a 20th-ranked Iowa State team that lost 80-76 at Kansas last week. The Horns are 1-4 in true road games and haven’t brought the required amount of energy in most of them (that horrible start in Stillwater comes to mind) but living in the past won’t help. Learning from past mistakes away from home should serve as a motivation.
At 16-5, Iowa State won’t just roll over and hand Texas a win because things are on the come-up up north. Well-respected rankings expert Ken Pomeroy has projected the Cyclones to finish 12-6 and win the Big 12 even though four teams are ahead of them in the standings. On a local level, well-respected columnist Kirk Bohls has picked Iowa State as well. I’m taking Texas Tech.
If you’re really wondering if Texas just turned a corner, Saturday will provide a reasonable explanation.
It’s another gut check for a team that’s starting to answer in positive fashion.