Shaka Smart never yells, curses or shows too much emotion with reporters. His facial expressions and body language never lie, though.
The Texas basketball coach — an erudite intellectual, not a profane in-your-face taskmaster — was deeply disappointed after Tuesday’s loss at Oklahoma State. Crushed may be more appropriate. Maybe a little disturbed, too.
But if you’re looking for someone who’s going to dog-cuss players and call them out in public, that’s simply not, um, Smart. Nobody would have blamed him after that 61-58 loss, either.
The coach who always preaches about a certain team identity said, “Tonight, we didn’t have five guys that wanted to live out that identity. I’ve got to find five that’ll do it.”
Saturday’s home game against No. 8 Texas Tech (14-1, 3-0 Big 12) is a chance to see if Smart’s troops will engage.
There’s only so much talking the coach can do. The inconsistent Longhorns (10-5, 2-1) have to determine for themselves whether they’re willing to run for a full 40 minutes or be content with the fits and starts of a clogged V8.
“He wants us to believe as much as he believes in us,” guard Matt Coleman III said. “He says it every day. This is a championship-level team, but if I want it more than y’all, then that don’t mean nothing.”
Coleman, who spends as much time around Smart as anybody, indicated there’s a competitive fire burning there. The coach may just choose not to show it publicly.
“He cares,” Coleman said. “It may seem like he’s down or he’s frustrated because he wants us to feel like he feels. I feel like some guys do. It’s just consistently, every day, no matter what, we need to have the same amount of affection and care and passion that he has.”
Texas played with virtually no energy in the first half in Stillwater, needed more than 10 minutes to score 10 points and trailed 39-22 at the break. “That wasn’t us,” freshman forward Jaxson Hayes said Friday.
The Horns looked more like themselves in the second half by turning up the defensive heat. The Cowboys hit only five of 22 shots after halftime. But few teams can fully climb out of a 19-point hole on the road.
“We just came out slow,” Hayes said. “We took Oklahoma State for granted, seeing they had lost two or three games in the past. We just didn’t come out the way we needed to come out.”
The biggest positive afterward? Baylor shocked Iowa State also on Tuesday, leaving Texas Tech as the league’s only team left without a Big 12 loss. A burnt-orange win on Saturday at the Erwin Center would be an emotional lift for the Horns, same as it would be critical in the standings.
“Really, the learning lesson (from Tuesday) is we need to come out stronger in games,” Hayes said. “The way we came out, we can’t do that and expect to win big games — especially against Tech. You can’t do that. Every game I’ve seen Tech play, even against Duke, they came out firing. We just can’t do that.”
The Red Raiders have never had much basketball success in Austin. Texas has won 22 home games in this series dating back to February 1996, the final season of the Southwest Conference.
Coach Chris Beard’s team has been winning games by an average of 19.5 points. Tech opened Big 12 play with wins over West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma.
“I’ve been telling our guys all week that we’ll have to play our best game of the season to this point,” Beard said. “We’ll have to play a full 40 minutes to be competitive and put ourselves in a position to win this game.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.