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No. 19 Texas looking for rhythm, wins at the Maui Invitational in … North Carolina?

Longhorns looking to stay safe while making their longest road trip of the season

Think your holidays were ruined by the pandemic? The Texas men’s basketball team was supposed to spend Thanksgiving week in Maui.

Texas Longhorns guard Matt Coleman III (2) drives down the court against University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (14) Javon Levi of a NCAA basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center, Wednesday November 25, 2020. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The pandemic forced Maui Invitational organizers to dramatically overhaul the entire operation. So instead of flying west, the Longhorns are headed east this week to play the same tournament in Ashville, N.C.

No. 19 Texas (1-0) face Davidson at 11 a.m. Monday in the opening round of the Maui Invitational, but both teams will be far, far from Ka’anapali Beach and Molokini Crater. Here’s betting there’s no snorkeling at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, either.

“What we talked about in the summertime was to win as many championships as we can,” guard Courtney Ramey said. “This is our first opportunity to win a championship in Ashville.”

Set basketball aside for a moment. This will be the Longhorns’ first extended journey away from home in a pandemic. Coach Shaka Smart’s club is scheduled to play three non-conference games in Buncombe County, which does not rank among the top 15 counties in North Carolina in COVID-19 cases.

College basketball games are being canceled and rescheduled all over the country. The Longhorns are excited about their team and no one wants to have any games lost because of the pandemic.

“With all that stuff, the decisions on what to do are ultimately made by the medical folks,” Smart said. “We have really good medical personnel here at UT. They really feel like the folks that run the Maui tournament have gone above and beyond with their level of detail with protocols and safety.

“Now that being said, we all know things can happen,” Smart added. “I think the big key is continuing to keep our guys safe. Our guys keeping each other safe. We get on the plane, making sure we’re safe during travel.”

The Horns have heightened awareness of COVID-19 after team doctors held Andrew Jones out of Wednesday’s season opener against UT-Rio Grande Valley. He was fine at the team’s morning shootaround but started coughing later in the day. Jones, who has overcome leukemia, was held out of that night’s game as a precaution.

“Covid negative and I’m feeling better. Yup I’m ready to play,” Jones tweeted on Saturday. “I appreciate all the love and support from my friends, family, and fans. #spreadlove”

Smart said the team hotel is not technically a bubble environment, “but they’ll have it pretty locked down.”

“They feel good about it,” Smart said. “And some of it’s going to require just some good fortune.”

As for the tournament itself, Texas will play Davidson first and then either the winner or loser of the Indiana-Providence matchup. North Carolina, UNLV, Stanford and Alabama are on the other side of the bracket.

The Horns had a solid season-opening win over the Vaqueros, but this gives them a chance to find some rhythm. Texas will return home and have only two more games before Big 12 play opens on Dec. 13 at Baylor.

“So go out there and win three in a row,” Ramey said. “Then we can just carry it over to coming back home, and it’s going to help us have momentum for the Big 12, which is a great league.”