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Bohls: Texas wasn't itself, but may be reinventing itself at right time

Texas coach Shaka Smart gathers his team during a timeout in Thursday's 67-66 win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals in Kansas City, Mo.
  • Texas may be dispelling notion all three of its guards must play well to advance.
  • Courney Ramey went scoreless, and Andrew Jones put in just 11 points, but Texas still won.
  • Evolving Jase Febres and more assertive Jerico Sims and Kai Jones have become huge weapons.

Texas is still alive in the Big 12 Tournament. Very much alive.

And even better, it might have put to death a popular notion that the Longhorns will go only as far as their three veteran guards take them. Only one took ’em anywhere Thursday night.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the 15th-ranked Longhorns didn’t need spectacular performances from their three-headed backcourt to get past nemesis Texas Tech in the quarterfinals. They didn’t even get average performances.

In fact, Shaka Smart’s team had anything but as it might be reinventing itself in March, of all times.

Senior Andrew Jones had 11 points but was clearly off his game. He connected on just 3 of 11 attempts but wasn’t true on his final four shots. Junior Courtney Ramey was downright invisible. He went scoreless, missing all five of his shots, three from long distance, and committed two turnovers in his 18 minutes. One was a momentous mistake when he stepped out of bounds on an in-bounds pass, an error that could have cost his team dearly.

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But Matt Coleman III was Mr. Cool once more.

The senior guard, whom Smart first recruited when he was an eighth grader, was his Maui MVP self, harking back to that early-season tournament at which he also had some game-winning heroics against North Carolina. 

Texas Tech guard Micah Peavy and Texas forward Kai Jones chase a loose ball during the first half Thursday night. Jones is emerging as a key contributor for the Longhorns.

On this night at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo., Coleman led Texas with 19 points, had a crucial layup to pull UT to within a single point and then sealed the Longhorns’ fourth consecutive victory with two silky free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining in a 67-66 win.

It was a game the Longhorns had no business winning.

And yet they won.

As teammate Kai Jones said earlier this week about Coleman, “One thing I can say about Matt since I've been here is he's been somebody who has had a sense of urgency.”

He was urgently needed Thursday.

To overcome a sloppy, 20-turnover game, to get a modest six points at the free throw line, to recover from some mental lapses such as Brock Cunningham’s too-quick shot and Ramey’s faux pas and Greg Brown’s immature meltdown and still win? Well, that’s plain ol' resilience as well as a ton of grit. 

Texas basketball:PHOTOS: No. 13 Texas 67, No. 20 Texas Tech 66: Matt Coleman ices another one as Horns win

This could even be a team-reshaping kind of game because Texas showed signs of being a more complete team, one that can get by largely with only one of its guards shining. While Baylor’s impressive backcourt of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague combined for 65 points in an afternoon escape from pesky No. 9 seed Kansas State, Texas’ trio totaled just 30 points.

And the Longhorns didn't blink.

Texas got yet another solid game out of Jase Febres, who’s returning to form after his microfracture knee surgery 13 months ago and is becoming a key 3-point weapon again as well as an improved defender.

“Credit to Jase,” Coleman said. “Just having Jase out there gives us a different dynamic when he's making shots, guarding, just being tough.”

And Jericho Sims, who should sue the Big 12 for his baffling omission from the league’s all-defensive team, is becoming more assertive by the minute. 

As for Kai Jones, you half-wonder if we’re going to look up in 2025 and think of him as a Kevin Durant-type talent. He oozes potential.

“We absolutely are going to need to continue to grow,” Smart said. “I know it sounds crazy, that we're kind of almost at mid-March, but because of the nature of this year, Greg being new, Jase coming off of injury, Kai being a guy who's rapidly evolving as a player. The goal is for them to be much different by March than they were in December. But then when you play teams like Tech, sometimes they're going to take certain guys away.”

So taketh away, the Red Raiders did. But the Longhorns gaveth right back from different players.

Texas had five in double figures to finally get the best of Tech, which swept the two regular-season matchups, but Andrew Jones and Ramey weren’t their normal selves Thursday. 

That might represent big-time progress because this should serve as more confirmation of this team’s mental fortitude and should be fitted into the team’s memory bank, once the NCAA Tournament begins next week. UT now has about five players who could be alpha dogs on a certain night, six if Febres' shot is on.

“Whenever everyone's not going to have a perfect game and a great game every single night out, it’s our job to pick up the slack and fight for our brothers,” Febres said. “You have to be the next person ready. And that's why it’s such a good thing about us being a mature team. We understand that, and getting our younger guys to understand that completely is going to be when we're going to be really scary.”

They're already pretty scary and will be once the NCAA party begins. Lord knows, Texas didn’t play perfectly. It rarely does.

It started the second half with three consecutive turnovers as Tech raced to a four-point lead that would twice grow to 10-point advantages. The Longhorns shrugged it off like an annoying fly.

Tech seemed to come up with a majority of the loose balls, but it was Cunningham’s defense and tying up of Terrence Shannon on a drive in the paint to force a turnover that proved pivotal.

When the Red Raiders got hot, Smart inserted Cunningham and Kai Jones into the lineup for the final four minutes, and Tech never scored again. Texas got the stops it needed.

And on a night when Texas wasn’t totally itself, it might have served notice that the Longhorns can assert themselves a little differently and be just fine.