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Bohls: Where is Texas headed? Smart understandably giddy over landmark win

Which direction is Texas headed as March approaches? Longhorns men's basketball coach Shaka Smart, left, shouts instructions to his team during Tuesday night's 75-72 win against Kansas and on right, shouts instructions to his team during last Saturday's close 84-82 loss to West Virginia.
  • Shaka Smart had reason to be thrilled over his team's overtime win over perennial bully Kansas.
  • This was the kind of performance that Texas could draw upon in tense times in March.
  • "It felt like a Big 12 game because it's a gantlet every night," Matt Coleman said.

Shaka Smart sounded giddy in the postgame press conference Tuesday night.

Downright giddy.

And why shouldn’t he?

Hasn’t the Texas basketball coach had trouble coming up for air almost since he got here? And hadn’t his veteran team just ripped the hearts right out of mighty Kansas and served notice that Baylor ain’t the only Big 12 team the Jayhawks need to worry about? 

Oh, the still-perfect Bears are going to win the league going away, but we just saw with our own eyes the Longhorns rally from a 14-point first-half deficit and stone Bill Self’s 17th-ranked bunch for a riveting 75-72 overtime win. And doesn’t that give No. 14 Texas a first-ever sweep of the Rock Chalkers? Like ever?

Hell, Longhorn Nation should be giddy. Over-its-heels euphoric over the way their favorite team battled back and did to Kansas what Kansas has been doing to the rest of the league since that peach basket was nailed to a wall. That’s like Sark beating Oklahoma twice in the same season. This is foreign territory.

You gotta feel happy for Smart, a totally likable coach who honestly deserves to catch a break. He’s a classy sort who never lashes out at his critics, who keeps his now curly head above the fray and who has always put his players first.

More from Bohls:Baylor crushes Texas, but disparity won't last forever

Save the extension talk, but go ahead and bust out a world-champion smile, Shaka, and know that your team just might have a whole bunch of Kansas-like performances left in it. Sure, it’s lost more than its share of heartbreaking finishes lately, but it’s also won a bunch of ‘em too. The Longhorns just don’t always look like you can rely on them to turn in solid games on a regular basis, but we all know they’re capable.

Texas guard Matt Coleman III drives and scores during the second half of Tuesday night's win over 17th-ranked Kansas.

I’ll be honest. This bunch could get knocked off in the first round of the March affair or it could catch fire and win four straight. 

But you will get honest-to-gosh effort from this crew, even on a night when no starting guard hits a three until Andrew Jones sank one with 9:10 left in the game. You’ll get other stuff too. Defensive intensity, mental toughness, contributions up and down the roster and 24 free throws in 31 chances. That’s what won this one for Texas, which should feel chesty about its 8-5 conference record in this pool of sharks.

And didn’t Tuesday night have the feel of an NCAA Tournament game?

“It felt like a Big 12 game,” point guard Matt Coleman III cracked, “because it’s a gantlet every night.”

True, that. There are no nights off.

This clearly is no business-as-usual college basketball season.

Not when Texas can stink up the joint in the first half and sleepwalk through a game it had no business winning, then stiffen after intermission and suffocate Kansas to the point it managed just 23 measly points in the second half and just six in overtime.

More from Bohls:Texas to honor four national championship teams with quarterback busts

Yeah that same Texas team. On the same night.

The one that can’t win for losing at the Erwin Center, dropping home games to Texas Tech and Oklahoma at the finish sans their sick coach and to Baylor like everyone else does and to a really good West Virginia team in an unimaginable manner you wouldn’t wish on an ERCOT manager.

But Texas won this one.

And it won it in a way that should stamp itself as a dangerous team in March. Yeah, sometimes it can be dangerous to itself. The stinker in Stillwater is still a little too fresh.

But Tuesday’s win — OK, you can breathe now, Shaka — should allow a talented, feisty, confident Texas team to regather itself, refocus, regain its identity and play the same brand of basketball that once had it hovering in the top five and flirting with being a No. 2 tournament seed.

“It's a great morale booster,” Jones said. “I don't think Texas has ever done that in history, and we want to continue to write our story. We want to continue to pave our own way, our own destiny and leave a legacy here with this group.”

Texas guard Courtney Ramey fights for the loose ball with Kansas guard Christian Braun in the second half of the Longhorns' 75-72 victory at the Erwin Center.

The pressure to win in March is always overwhelming and even moreso for the beleaguered Smart, who’s in Year 6 and still in search of his first NCAA post-season win. And it could feel positively claustrophobic for him in another few weeks.

But Smart knows he’s got a good team. 

He knows he’s got three talented guards, the prerequisite for teams planning on making deep March runs. He knows he’s got two versatile big guys in Jericho Sims and the electric Kai Jones, who can do so many different things like flush six dunks on Kansas’ heads. 

He knows he’s got glue guys like Brock Cunningham, who somehow finds rebounds in his sleep and must have the dirtiest fingernails in the league, and tenacious Royce Hamm. He knows he’s got an explosive freshman in Greg Brown who can hit a couple of bombs to electrify his own team out of the halftime break.

More from Bohls:Baylor reveals disparity between it and Texas ... and everyone

And he now knows his team’s got some muscle memory with an historic sweep of Kansas, something it can draw upon in a tight first-round NCAA game.

“I think absolutely it was (that kind of game),” Smart said. "I'm surprised I didn't get this question the other day because sometimes you guys ask is this a must win. And of course you can't necessarily admit that because you don't want to put that pressure on your players, but I kind of felt that a little bit over these last couple of days, like we got to get this one because that last one got away from us, and we're going on the road after this, and it's our senior night and we're never gonna forget senior night.“

Yeah, he was giddy all right. And justifiably so. And hopefully there will still be a lot more nights in 2021 that this team will never forget.