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Tre Mitchell’s viral video shows how Texas basketball is building confidence game by game

Don’t jinx it, but Texas has maneuvered into the Big 12 title race. ‘We’re right in the middle of the fight.’

The video doesn’t lie. Videographer Nico Banda captured far more than a funny moment with Texas forward Tre Mitchell during Monday’s game against Kansas

Banda got a glimpse into the Longhorns’ collective psyche, too.

“Watch this. Watch this,” Mitchell says to a fan off camera. Mitchell then posts up, takes a feed from Timmy Allen and makes a solid move to score on Kansas big man David McCormack. 

“What’d I say?” Mitchell then yells back to the fan in the now-viral video.

“To be completely honest, I don’t know what came over me,” Mitchell said Thursday. “But I knew the play call, and I knew that they weren't going to be expecting it. The guy was looking at me and we made eye contact, and that's just what happened.”

Banda’s video captured a player and a team brimming with confidence. No. 20 Texas (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) appears to be finding its stride here in mid-February. Up next comes Saturday’s road test at No. 10 Baylor (20-4, 8-3) in a key battle near the top of the Big 12 standings.

Don’t jinx anything and don’t shout it from the social media rooftops just yet, but the Horns are in the Big 12 title hunt. To those UT fans with merely a passing interest in basketball, this team warrants your full attention.

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Texas coach Chris Beard has always used the analogy that the Big 12 race was an “18-round fight.” When the team gets halfway through, “we’ll kind of peek up and look at where we're at. We did that recently,” Beard said.

“There are some big games coming up that are going to dictate kind of where everybody falls at the end of this deal,” Beard said. “But I know this: it’s our first year here, we’re building the program, and we’re right in the middle of the fight.”

He’ll find no quibble here. “Anybody that would disagree with that, I would respectfully disagree right back with them,” he added.

Texas forward Tre Mitchell goes high to block a shot by Iowa State guard Izaiah Brockington on Feb. 5 at the Erwin Center. "We’re all really on the same page at this point in the season,” Mitchell said of the Longhorns.

It’ll take some work — that’s for sure. Kansas is 8-2 in league play but just lost to Texas. They will play again March 5 in Lawrence, Kan.

Baylor is in second place but still must play two games against UT. If the Horns win Saturday, the two teams would be tied for second with matching 8-4 league records. The second Texas-Baylor game will be Feb. 28 in Austin.

Texas Tech is tied with Texas for third place with a 7-4 Big 12 mark. Tech won the first matchup in Lubbock on Feb. 1. They play again Feb. 19 in Austin. 

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Texas officials might be fidgeting with the ticket system for that game. Ticket sales have been closed to the general public, especially since Tech fans started crowing on message boards about how they plan to overrun the Erwin Center.

Beard announced Thursday that all UT students who hold the “Big Ticket” athletic pass will be allowed into the arena that night. Nobody tell the fire marshal. Texas sold approximately 20,000 “Big Ticket” passes to the UT student body. Roughly 2,000 showed up for the Kansas game. Erwin Center capacity is 16,540.

“No student will be turned away at this next home game,” Beard said.

Along the way, Texas still must play at Oklahoma (Feb. 15), host TCU (Feb. 23) and go to West Virginia (Feb. 26). 

Texas has not won a Big 12 title since 2008 under Rick Barnes. Former coach Shaka Smart’s teams finished anywhere from third (twice) to last (once).

Right now, five teams are still viable contenders — Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and even TCU (5-4 in league play). Anything is possible.

“I think we control our own destiny in a lot of ways,” Beard said. “That’s all you can ask for in this league, to be sitting here in February on the back nine, and I’m not even a golfer. 

“I’ve never said that. There’s a great bar in my hometown called the 19th Hole,” Beard added with a grin. “We say that from time to time, but the ‘back nine,’ I’ve never said that. Back nine.”

Yes, even Beard is loosening up. And players always take their cues from the head coach.

“I think we control our own destiny in a lot of ways,” said Texas coach Chris Beard, whose team is tied for third in the Big 12 at 7-4.

The Horns have won five of their last six games and are favored to win all but two of their last seven, according to KenPom. A team of veteran scorers assembled during the offseason is starting to come together as one.

“I’m talking to the guys; we’re all really on the same page at this point in the season,” Mitchell said. “We understand the schedule that we have ahead, and we understand all the talent that is in our locker room. 

“We understand that on certain nights, we’re going to need some guys to have some special games,” Mitchell added. “We’re all going to have to bring our best every time we step on the court, whether that be in practice, shootaround, or come game time. We're trying to compete for something bigger here.”

This team is nowhere close to bumping its head on the ceiling. 

Texas still leads all Division I teams in scoring defense (55.8 points per game), and somehow Kansas still shot 58%. McCormack and Jalen Wilson were 12-for-20 combined shooting midrange or point-blank shots. 

The Horns had seven turnovers, their second-lowest total in Big 12 play this season. But oddly, they had just eight assists on 28 field goals, suggesting not enough ball movement and lots of one-on-one creation. 

Granted, that’s nitpicking after a win. But those kinds of stats give UT coaches plenty to chew on between games. 

“I don’t think any of us came here to win games in early or mid-February, and so we understand the opportunity that lies ahead,” Beard said. “I’m not trying to be anything less than positive, but I think we’ve got a long ways to go.”

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

Marcus Carr and Timmy Allen celebrate during the Longhorns' victory over Kansas on Monday at the Erwin Center. Texas is still in the race for the Big 12 title, with games against other top contenders ahead.