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Texas’ Shaka Smart describes the Longhorns wild week as bad weather put basketball on ice

Smart: ‘I want to say thank you to the UT athletics staff for the work they’ve done.’

Texas head coach Shaka Smart is silhouetted against the team's logo before an NCAA college basketball game against TCU, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

In an ideal world, Saturday’s game between No. 12 Texas and No. 13 West Virginia would probably be postponed. 

Some Longhorns, like most residents of Austin, were without electricity or water at various points this week. 

The weather was so bad, Texas couldn’t even leave town on a charter jet to play mid-week games at Oklahoma and Iowa State. They couldn’t even come together and practice until Thursday.

“I wasn’t really prepared for this,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said Friday. “I’m from Wisconsin; it snows all the time. But I’ve learned over the last few days, this is different.”

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COVID-19 has forced so many postponements this season, the Horns are already behind and face a slew of make-up road games. The sun broke through on Friday, so Texas (13-5, 7-4 Big 12) will be expected to be on the Erwin Center floor at 2 p.m. Saturday for a nationally televised matchup. 

“I want to say thank you to the UT athletics staff for the work they’ve done to help guys, student-athletes and coaches in those situations,” Smart said. 

In a statement sent to men’s basketball season ticket holders Friday afternoon, the UT athletic department confirmed the game was a go.

“Despite a challenging week for our city, our university, and our student-athletes, our Men’s Basketball game versus West Virginia tomorrow will be played as scheduled and be available via our broadcast partners,” UT said in its statement. 

“It has been a difficult season already for players and coaches across the conference, and we believe it’s in the best interest of our student-athletes to play, given their desire to do so and upcoming scheduling constraints.”  

Asked whether Texas should be playing, Smart said, “To answer your question, just like with COVID, we leave obviously the final say on that to people up in charge. 

“If it’s safe, if it is something that does not put our players or anyone else that’s coming in our building at risk or in a bad place, and they say it’s OK to play, then that’s what our guys want to do,” Smart added.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Fans will not be allowed to attend Saturday’s men’s game or Sunday’s women’s game as to not tax resources. 

“Keeping this game to just players, coaching staff and media partners will ensure that we do NOT put additional pressure on our community infrastructure and resources,” UT’s emailed statement said. “We will continue to monitor the conditions for future games at the Erwin Center in the coming days.”

The Mountaineers (14-6, 7-4) were in the air when Smart met with reporters via Zoom to detail what a harrowing week it was for his basketball team. This came on the same day Smart was named one of 15 national candidates for the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year award.

“Hope everybody’s hanging in there during this really, really unique time,” Smart said to start the call. “Obviously, basketball’s kind of far down the list in this area of what is the most important. Just thinking about all the people that’s been affected.”

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Smart said when icy conditions began to set in last Sunday, school officials were still scrambling to get the Horns out of town for a long road trip. Ultimately, the games against OU and Iowa State were postponed. As of now, Texas still has to make up four Big 12 games — all on the road, too.

“I don’t know if anyone could have anticipated this week, not just on our team but in general,” Smart said. “So where are our guys (mentally)? I think they’re happy to not be stuck 24 hours a day in their residence, but we just try to figure it out. I’m trying to encourage these guys, ‘Hey, since we are here together and we’re trying to do something together, make it about the man next to you.’

“I’m proud of these guys, how they’ve dealt with everything, how they’ve been resilient,” he added.

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As the coach, Smart said he must balance everything affecting his players when measuring his tone.

“Today in practice, I’m getting on one of our guys. Like, some of you guys that tend to be hard on me sometimes in the past would love it. I’m all over this guy,” Smart said. “Then in the back of my mind, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, what is he going through off the court?’

“What has his family endured in the past several days? Is he fully recovered from having COVID, whenever that was?,” Smart added. “It doesn’t mean you don’t coach a guy. It doesn’t mean you don’t hold him accountable. But it’s just part of the equation.”

Smart is relying on strength coach Andrea Hudy’s guidance to make sure the players are in good physical condition to play despite not practicing much. 

“As I’ve learned from Hudy, it’s kind of more an art than science,” Smart said. “It’s just kind of based on the way guys were feeling. The last thing I want to happen is some guy to pop his quad or hamstring.”

Still, the Longhorns are headed into a meat grinder of a finish because of all the postponments. There are only two games left on the regular-season schedule — Tuesday’s home game against Kansas and next Saturday’s trip to Texas Tech. 

Texas must find a way to schedule road games at Baylor, TCU, Iowa State and Oklahoma to complete the 18-game, regular-season schedule.

At this point, Smart’s just trying to roll with the punches.

“It’s probably not ideal in terms of circumstances,” Smart said. “We’ve told these guys all year that we have to overcome circumstances, and we have to make sure that challenges and adversity bring us closer together.”

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