AUSTIN – Texas found itself at a crossroads as the team boarded a flight back home following a 98-88 loss to Georgia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Five losses in six games, each more painful than the last, had sent the Longhorns tumbling from the top of the conference standings. The offense was disjointed, the defense slipping, NCAA tournament chances fading.
Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski could be seen in huddles trying to get some of his intensity and urgency to rub off, as if it could be imparted through sudden osmosis.
It has turned out, though, that humiliating letdown in Athens, Ga., might have done more for Texas than any win this season.
“Our guys really have practiced very well over the past two weeks,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said Monday. “Ever since we gave up 98 points to Georgia we’ve not had one practice that hasn’t been a war and that hasn’t been very productive from a standpoint of our players’ attitudes and getting better.”
Texas (14-10, 6-5 Big 12) has won two straight games and three of its past four. The outcome of Tuesday’s test against Big 12 leader Kansas State (18-5, 8-2) at the Erwin Center could reshape how the rest of the season plays out within a jumbled conference.
“To me, with this game, with it being the first-place team in the league, I don’t think there’s going to be any type of question about motivation,” Smart said.
Last week Smart’s group played with sustained conviction and composure in double-digit wins over Baylor and at West Virginia. That continued a trend that began in a 73-63 win over 11th-ranked Kansas.
Smart has pontificated on the importance of stellar guard play. Texas has been at its best when receiving ample production and smart minutes from its starting trio, and senior Kerwin Roach II, sophomore Matt Coleman and freshman Courtney Ramey all showed out last week.
was named Big 12 co-newcomer of the week after averaging 14.5 points on 53 percent shooting, three 3-pointers (on 67 percent shooting) and four rebounds. He punctuated a career-best 19-point performance against West Virginia with an emphatic one-handed alley-oop finish.
“Just trying to beat them over the head with that, the approach they need to take to play in a consistent way,” Smart said of his guards. “Trying to get those guys connected around each other and understand how much they impact one another.”
Smart considers Roach the team’s barometer.
If he is playing smart and staying engaged on both ends, Texas can hang with and beat just about anyone on its schedule. If Roach slips, either mentally or physically or both, that creates a malignancy that ripples throughout the entire team.
It’s no coincidence Texas has righted the ship over its past four games with Roach averaging 17.3 points on 45 percent shooting and 2.3 3-pointers on 41 percent shooting.
“I think it does start with Snoop because he’s the senior,” Smart said. “He is our leading scorer. He’s a guy on the defensive end when he’s locked in that can be as good as …read more
Source:: Daily times