After battling through COVID issues and a difficult stretch of games, Texas found winning ways in recent contests at Kansas State and versus TCU. The Longhorns’ 70-55 win on Saturday over the Horned Frogs had senior guard Matt Coleman believing it was the best game the Longhorns had played in over a month.
“With the games we’ve played and the practice that we’ve had, it allowed us to just reconnect, focus on each other, and understand our circle — that’s what we call it — of why we play and the process in order to win,” Coleman said of the wins on Saturday.
The two-game win steak could not have been better timed for the Longhorns. Due to COVID cancellations, Texas is about to embark on a stretch of five games in 11 days including contests against ranked Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas Tech.
A re-schedule against top-tier Baylor is also somewhere on the horizon. Even without including a potential trip to Waco, these next 11 days will determine the ceiling of Shaka Smart’s sixth season in Austin.
Texas players throughout the course of the year have repeatedly mentioned their desire to win the Big 12 Championship. Freshman forward Greg Brown, whose stay in Austin is likely limited to this season, has mentioned it publicly more than other players.
That goal will prove difficult to achieve with a team like Baylor in conference, but striving to play winning basketball and competing with the best can translate to any team. Brown knows how important these next few games are for his team’s postseason goals.
“It’s going to build our confidence back up,” Brown said Saturday. “It’s going to get our chemistry back right. We’re just going to go out next game and do what we do, carry the same thing over from today to next game.”
The next stretch of games Texas has to play as a result of those postponements is reminiscent of a NBA travel schedule. Despite the challenge, Coleman is ready.
“That’s what you want,” Coleman said. “Your body is tired, everybody’s body is tired. One thing about that is less practice, and you get to play some games baby. Let’s get it rolling.”
The packed schedule isn’t just a Texas issue. Smart acknowledged opposing teams may not have the same workload as the Longhorns but mentioned “it’s not like the teams we’re playing are playing once this week.”
As a result of the slate, Smart has to manage minutes and workload with more detail than he probably has had to before as a head coach.
“We’re going to do the right thing for our guys physically,” Smart said. “We’re not going to practice for three hours on Wednesday in between two games. It’s more about the mental side and being connected.”
Physical management is always on a head coach’s mind in mid-February. Smart even admitted to his team it’s understandable to be feeling fatigued at this point in the season since there’s fatigue at this point in every season.
And Smart isn’t looking just at the next two weeks, but at the next seven weeks including the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.
“If our team over the next seven weeks is willing to lose ourselves in the fight, and that means let go of any type of self-interest, all the noise and all the chatter, all the what-about-me, and just truly, truly lose ourselves in each other and the competition of what we are trying to do, then we can max out,” Smart said. “If we don’t do that, then we won’t.”
Those seven weeks are important, but the trajectory those seven weeks may take will be determined by the first two. The first two weeks begin with a game in Norman on Wednesday. Before step two, three, or four, comes step one.
“Obviously, in our case we get to go on the road and we play a really, really high-level Oklahoma game,” Smart said. “ we are going to focus on that, then we’ll quickly have to turn the page.”
Edit: During publication of this article, Texas announced the following schedule change
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Athletics