One month ago, Texas coach Shaka Smart wasn’t even open to the idea of changing his starting lineup. It was a non-starter.
Forward Jericho Sims continued to start in December while Jaxson Hayes provided a spark off the bench. Same for Elijah Mitrou-Long, who would sub in and make things happen as a reserve.
Losses to Radford, Virginia Commonwealth and Providence — all winnable games — have a way of changing one’s perspective.
When the Longhorns open Big 12 play on Wednesday, don’t be surprised if Smart puts both Hayes and Mitrou-Long in the starting lineup. They’ve earned it as Texas (8-4) journeys to Kansas State (10-2).
Smart unveiled a new lineup against UT-Arlington last Friday in a 76-56 win. Mitrou-Long started for the third straight game and had 11 points in 27 minutes. Hayes had four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes in his first start.
Smart has also been giving reserve Royce Hamm Jr. more opportunities. Earlier this season, he praised the sophomore’s recent practice habits. Hamm simply needed to be more consistent. But he has rewarded the coaching staff the last three games, building up to 10 points and four rebounds against UTA.
“Just me staying the course, and being patient; just doing what I do every day,” Hamm told Orangebloods after the game. “I just feel like I’ve been doing it at a very high level lately.”
The Wildcats are muddling through life without Dean Wade, the Big 12’s preseason player of the year. He’s out with a foot injury, but it’s not expected to be a season-ending limitation.
Xavier Sneed, a 6-5 junior, has been filling in with rebounding while K-State picks up the pieces offensively. He did have 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting in a 59-58 win over George Mason on Saturday.
And coach Bruce Weber’s club still has Kamau Stokes, who joined K-State’s 1,000-point club last Saturday. He’s now the 30th player in school history to cross that milestone. Barry Brown also ranks ninth in school history in scoring with 1,450 points.
That sounds like a lot of firepower, but Kansas State ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring (67.4). Texas remains in its usual spot of being last in shooting, though. The Longhorns are shooting 42.5 percent.
“Texas has looked like one of the best teams in the country this year around Thanksgiving, but then they have really struggled at times,” Weber told reporters on Saturday. “So all we can do is not worry and get ready to come back and play. We need everybody to do some things.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.