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Knocked off its stride, No. 6 Texas aiming Saturday to put COVID-19, two losses in the past

Longhorns still sitting in second place in Big 12 standings, projected No. 3 seed in upcoming NCAA Tournament

Texas guard Matt Coleman III grabs a loose ball and looks to pass during Tuesday's 83-69 loss to No. 2 Baylor at the Erwin Center. “Let’s get better, and let’s move forward,” Coleman said after the defeat.

Quarantine is miserable.

“I didn’t really have any symptoms,” Texas guard Courtney Ramey said. “I was pretty much bored the whole time.”

Stuck at home while the Longhorns played on, Ramey could only watch as Texas lost to Oklahoma on Jan. 26. At least the next game against Kentucky was canceled. 

“Selfishly, I didn’t want them to play without me,” Ramey said. “But I felt like they had enough to beat Oklahoma. It was a good game. They just made more plays than us at the end of the day.”

Ramey called UT’s 80-79 loss to OU “a good learning experience” as others stepped up to play different roles. 

Still, Ramey said, “I almost broke my TV a couple times.”

RELATED: Men's preview: No. 6 Texas at Oklahoma State

Texas got its whole team out of quarantine Sunday, two days before facing No. 2 Baylor. Defensive struggles fueled the Bears’ 83-69 win. Now the sixth-ranked Longhorns are looking at a two-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s visit to Oklahoma State. 

With an 11-4 record, Texas had an exciting season going until getting sidetracked by COVID-19. The Horns went 19 days in January without having their full team on the practice floor. Even coach Shaka Smart tested positive and had to stay away.

This trip to Stillwater is a chance for the Horns to get back on the winning track with several more winnable games ahead.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve lost any rhythm,” guard Matt Coleman III said. “Guys with COVID, you’re missing the head coach, that does play a factor into your team. For any team, there’s going to be a difference.

“But now, I just think, OK, it happened. Let’s accept it. Let’s get better, and let’s move forward,” he added. “Now we’re whole again, or whatever you want to say. It’s just time to take advantage of everyone we have in this locker room.”

The calendar has turned to February, which means March will be here in a blink. Before Texas’ two-game skid, bracketologists had the Horns projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor forward Flo Thamba is pressured by Texas guard Courtney Ramey, playing in his first game after quarantine Tuesday night.

Now Texas is holding steady as a solid No. 3, at least according to the projections.

UT is tied with West Virginia for second place in the Big 12 standings. Both teams have 5-3 league records, although Texas has the tiebreaker advantage with a head-to-head win.

Statistically, the Horns are fourth in the league in scoring (75.9 points per game) and fifth in defense (67.3). Andrew Jones is the league’s seventh-best scorer (15.1), and Greg Brown is the third-best rebounder (7.5). 

By all measures, Texas is having its best season in the six years of Smart’s tenure. The Horns simply can’t be knocked down because COVID-19 knocked them off stride.

Smart didn’t like how the team lacked energy at times against Baylor. Early in the second half, after Texas jumped out to a quick start, Smart was overly animated on the sideline, egging his team to get vocal.

Smart was visibly upset over his team’s defensive sloppiness in that loss. Baylor’s guards showed no fear shooting over the 6-foot-11 Kai Jones or the 6-10 Jericho Sims. They simply dribbled past UT’s guards and went straight for the rim.

“They’re coming, and we just didn’t have enough toughness, to be honest, in a lot of ways, to be able to withstand that,” Smart said. “Now, if we withstood that a little bit better, it’s a closer game, and even then you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail.”

Texas coach Shaka Smart argues a call with an official during Tuesday's loss to Baylor. After battling COVID-19 issues in January, the Longhorns have skidded. “We flat out have to get better in a lot of areas,” Smart said. “And there’s only one place where that occurs. That’s practice.”

Was that because of COVID-19? Andrew Jones was the first to admit he wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.

The reality is multiple players were in quarantine, like Ramey, and couldn’t work out. It’s hard to run wind sprints while stuck in your dorm room.

Texas had only two days to prepare for Baylor with a full squad. The players had to quickly get back in shape and face the second-ranked team in the nation. At least going into Saturday, they’ll have had a full week to prepare, going full throttle in Cooley Pavilion, most likely.

Texas’ defense best be ready. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the Big 12’s leading scorer at 18.1 points per game.

“Over the last two days, when we’ve gotten back whole as a group, we flat out have to get better in a lot of areas,” Smart said Tuesday. “And there’s only one place where that occurs. That’s practice.”

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