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As Texas creeps closer and closer to the NCAA Tournament, it will face tougher competition than an Iowa State team that hasn’t recorded a win during conference play.
Before UT gets to the big dance, or even the conference tournament, it still had to take care of business against the Cyclones in Hilton Coliseum. Texas kept ISU at arm’s length for most of the game, maintaining at least an eight-point lead for the entirety of the second half. Kai Jones’ team-high 17 points, including a 9-of-10 night at the line, paced the Longhorns during their 81-67 victory.
“The message was take them serious because we built a lot of respect for them coming in,” Jones said. “We’ve seen where they’ve been close with really good teams like Baylor. We watched a lot of film on them and saw that they were a capable team, they just sometimes got the short end of the stick.”
Jones said they emphasized being aggressive and that played out during the first quarter of the game. Texas went on a blistering 17-2 run beginning with 12:49 left in the first half and ending over eight minutes later.
The run was enough to keep ISU at bay the entire game. There were several spurts, many fueled by one of the Longhorns’ 19 turnovers, in which the Cyclones tried to make things interesting. Cyclone guard Jalen Coleman-Lands added a game-high 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 4-of-7 from deep, but it was not enough to overcome four Longhorns in double figures and two more with nine points.
In addition to his 17 points, Jones collected eight rebounds, two blocks, and three steals. He was all over the floor in Ames, sometimes in control and sometimes careening against Cyclone defenders on his way to the basket.
Still, he showed off a silky midrange game, played above the rim, and was efficient at the free throw line.
“I’m happy for him that he’s coming to this realization of who he can be,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “He’s really just scratching the surface. We need this type of energy and multiple efforts from him as we go here in March.”
Jones and company took the Cyclones seriously as their 81-point effort would suggest. A road win in Hilton Coliseum is never something to take for granted, despite the quality of the Cyclones this season.
Turnovers were a problem for the Longhorns, specifically for the starting guard trio of Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones. The three combined for 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting, but also 11 of Texas’ 19 turnovers.
“Nineteen turnovers is way too many,” Smart said. “I told our guards you guys have got to lead the way with taking care of the ball better. I thought they passed the ball well other than the turnovers and found each other. That’s why we shot a good percentage.”
What Texas’ effort suggests is that Smart’s team approached its game with Iowa State properly and is loading up for the final stretch of regular season games. The Longhorns will go from Ames to Oklahoma City to Norman in short order to prepare for a matchup with the Oklahoma
Sooners. From there, they’ll travel to Fort Worth to end the season against TCU.
Smart’s trademark as a coach likely is his emphasis on motivation and togetherness. But for a motivator like Smart, what more does he need to say at this point?
“At this time of year, if you need a theme to get up to play, if you need a theme to go into a game motivated, that’s a problem right there,” Smart said. “It’s about putting winning over everything else. It’s about playing with a clarity of mind, not a divided mind, about your team, your teammates, and winning the game.”
The win in Ames means one down, two more to go for Smart’s team this week. Game two is in less than 48 hours.
“It’s obviously the first of three games on the road this week,” Smart said. “We can only play one at a time. Now we’ve got to quickly turn the page.”
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Basketball