Listen to Austin 360 Radio

No. 15 Texas 69, No. 16 Oklahoma 65: Jericho Sims hitting stride as Horns grab huge road win

Sims finishes with 16 points, 12 rebounds as Texas claims fourth place in Big 12 standings

Texas forward Jericho Sims contests a shot from Oklahoma's Alondes Williams during the first half of the Longhorns' 69-65 win in Norman, Okla., on Thursday night.

Jericho Sims will be incredible this March. He’ll be the reason No. 15 Texas finally breaks through the postseason and makes noise in the NCAA Tournament.

Or maybe he’ll get two fouls, sit out the rest of the first half and try to reengage as the Longhorns shift into survival mode. At that point, it becomes a crapshoot.

“When he gets two fouls early in the game,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said, “it’s a little bit of a dark cloud because it affects the rotation and being able to get him in and keep him in.”

Thursday against 16th-ranked Oklahoma was one of those nights when Sims looked unstoppable. He threw down vicious dunks, gobbled up rebounds and played tight, aggressive defense inside and out on the perimeter — picking up only one foul in 33 minutes, too. 

Yes, Courtney Ramey’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave the Horns much-needed breathing room. Of course, Matt Coleman III’s only bucket of the night with 12.4 seconds left was big. And Greg Brown’s late free throws were clutch, no doubt.

But Texas notched a massive 69-65 Big 12 road win because Sims continues to play All-Big 12-level defense, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Horns (16-7, 10-6 Big 12) are charging toward the postseason with a chiseled, focused warrior in the middle.

“Jericho’s playing great,” Ramey said. “He’s come into his own. We need that for our team. It makes it harder for other teams to prepare for us and guard us. I just like how he’s playing.”

Texas guard Courtney Ramey passes the ball around Oklahoma guard De'Vion Harmon during the second half Thursday night.

Granted, the opposite was true Tuesday against Iowa State. Sims got two fouls early, had to sit down, never got on track and finished 1-for-10 shooting. It was a forgettable trip to Ames; Sims had six points and no rebounds. That simply can’t happen for the 6-10 senior from Minneapolis.

Against OU, Sims played like the same confident athlete who had multiple big defensive games the past two months. By staying in the game and not fouling, he can find a rhythm on offense. The Sooners had almost no answer for him inside. 

Sims went 8-for-10 shooting in only the fourth game of his career with double-digit shot attempts. Two-handed dunks, a one-handed jam, stick-backs, you name it. Sims corralled two huge defensive rebounds late as Texas protected a 63-59 lead in the closing minutes. 

This was easily Sims’ best all-around athletic game of the season while drawing only one whistle.

“I think Tuesday, I kind of reverted back to the beginning of the season, just getting in foul trouble, just being too aggressive in a bad way, I would say,” Sims said. “Tonight, I was on it. I had to lock in and watch more film. I credit the coaching staff and my teammates for that.”

Everyone in burnt orange was locked in for this one. Smart was especially fired up because he missed the first Texas-OU game, along with three key players, due to COVID-19 protocols.

“I felt like a caged animal, man. That’s kind of how I was,” said Smart, who had to watch OU’s 80-79 victory on Jan. 26 while in quarantine. “It was very upsetting. Watching that game was one of the worst basketball experiences of my life, because I just felt helpless, and I knew our team was less than whole.”

Texas guard Andrew Jones tries to keep the ball away from Oklahoma forward Kur Kuath, looking to pass to a teammate during the second half Thursday.

As the Horns usually do, they opened with a set offensive play for Sims. Dunk. Two trips later, another dunk. Ramey hit a 3-pointer, Andrew Jones scored on a layup, and Texas was off and running.

Kai Jones dunked, Sims dunked again, and Jase Febres continued to light it up with three 3-pointers off the bench, same as he did against Iowa State. Texas ran up a 44-31 lead just before halftime. 

The only problem was the friendly fire under the basket. Brown caught the full force of an accidental elbow from Royce Hamm Jr. and suffered a cut under his right eye. Blood trickled out of Brown’s face and Hamm’s elbow. Brown did not need stitches afterward, though.

Texas was cruising, or so it appeared. That was until Austin Reaves banked in a 3-pointer over Sims just before the halftime buzzer. It was a sign. The second half turned into a typical Red River shootout.

OU coach Lon Kruger sent backup big man Kur Kuath into the fray with 12 minutes, 23 seconds remaining. The 6-foot-10 forward from South Sudan had an instant impact, flying past Sims to knock the ball off the UT player while going out of bounds. And he blocked Kai Jones in such a filthy way, it’ll make the perfect poster.

OU harnessed that energy into an 8-0 run, wiping out UT’s double-digit lead and taking a 54-53 advantage. It looked as if a total Texas meltdown was well underway.

But the Horns held it together. Ramey buried back-to-back 3-pointers, the highlights of his 11-point, nine-rebound night. Andrew Jones scored on a tough baseline layup. Then, Ramey found his big man, Sims, who sealed off his defender and took flight for an easy slam.

Another Sims dunk with 1:01 remaining gave UT a four-point lead. Coleman buried a midrange jumper to avoid having just the second scoreless night of his UT career. “He’s our leader; he’s our point guard,” Ramey said. “Even if he doesn’t make that shot, we’re going to ride or die with him every day.”

Then Brown caught a pass at half-court, got fouled and hit two free throws to ice it.

Life in the Big 12 isn’t easy. The Sooners (14-9, 9-8) were ranked seventh in the country in late February. Now they sit in seventh place in the league standings.

Texas is in fourth place going into Sunday’s regular-season finale at TCU (12-12, 5-10). Before anybody puts that in the win column, just know that TCU swept Oklahoma State this season. Nothing is a given in the Big 12.

Nothing can stop Texas when all cylinders are firing, either. That means the guards have to play well, bench players must contribute, and everybody must maintain a singular focus on defense. And Sims must stay out of foul trouble.

“I’ve got to do my part in that,” he said. “If I can stay in the game, not foul out like the last game, I think that’s good for us.”

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