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Quick turnaround: Maui championship now in the rearview as No. 17 Texas hosts No. 12 Villanova

Horns feel like they can break through the monotony of the last five seasons. Coleman: “I see it just starting to come together.”

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) celebrates with teammates after defeating North Carolina for the championship of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday in Asheville, N.C.

Paging Texas safety Chris Brown, your flexing skills are needed over in Cooley Pavilion.

Shaka Smart tightened up Wednesday when he saw there was one-tenth of a second still on the board. Matt Coleman’s game-winning 15-footer drained North Carolina but not quite the entire clock.

The Texas coach joked that “our guys were out there, you know, rolling all over the floor but it wasn't all the way done.”

Credit Courtney Ramey with a textbook Earl Thomas takedown of Coleman in the backcourt after the Longhorns clinched the Maui Invitational championship. 

Once that final tick ticked away, Smart got to see his players experience a genuine happy moment in the postgame trophy celebration. Ramey has said the Horns want to see how many championships they can win this season. So far, they’re 1-0.

“You go through a lot of challenges as a college basketball player or college basketball team,” Smart said Wednesday. “This is a high, high level of basketball. And there’s a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs. So just seeing our guys happy, just taking that in and true joy and true presence from them, I just wanted to get a good look at that.”

No. 17 Texas (4-0) returned home from Asheville, N.C., and will host No. 12 Villanova (3-1) at noon Sunday. The Horns start Big 12 play one week later. There’s simply no time to celebrate too much in this pandemic-scrambled season.

But the Horns come home with an elevated sense of self. This group of veterans believes they can be special, that they can break through the monotony of the last five seasons.

“I see it just starting to come together,” Coleman said. “Guys are taking things with more of an ownership, paying attention to more details and guys are just more confident and they’re more mature.

“We haven’t had guys play their best basketball yet, like Andrew Jones or Greg Brown or Jericho Sims,” he added. “So every day in practice we’ve got to keep trusting our skills, and we will keep getting better, not take a dip and just continue to grow and learn from this.”

It speaks volumes when a player like Andrew Jones can average 10 points per game but come away dissatisfied with his Maui performance. Jones was 4 for 18 from 3-point range in three games in Asheville.

Brown was 1 for 12 from long range but averaged six rebounds per game. “I know for a fact that when everything slows down for him, he will be one hell of a player, this year, his freshman year,” Coleman said.

Sims was 6-for-11 shooting and landed in foul trouble too quickly. His beefed-up frame will come in handy once league play begins. 

Sunday’s game is reminiscent of last year’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma State. The Horns were riding a five-game winning streak and simply needed to get past a slumping bunch of Cowboys to cruise into the postseason. Texas got obliterated, losing 81-59. 

This year, it’s hard to foresee a similar type of letdown given similar circumstances.

Smart will likely call on that experience going into Sunday. He’s got a veteran team that’s experienced almost every type of winning and losing situation. They should draw on that collective experience to keep this current momentum going.

“We have a ton of improvement to make,” Smart said, “but I give our guys a ton of credit in that when you do have a veteran team, you can utilize the experience of having been in some of these games before and finding ways to win them.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.