Smart: Men’s basketball must move past win over Kansas, look forward to Tuesday against Iowa State

05 Jan By
College World Series
Texas men's basketball head coach Shaka Smart said the Longhorns' ability to move past Sunday's win over Kansas and focus on future opponents will be an indicator of the team's hunger and focus on future goals (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — Talk to Texas men's basketball coach Shaka Smart and it quickly becomes apparent that the Longhorns' victory Saturday over then-No. 3 Kansas is ancient history in his mind.

It is not that he is not impressed with what his squad accomplished in handing Kansas head coach Bill Self his worst home loss in his 18-year tenure in Lawrence last week and achieving a No. 4 ranking in the newest Associated Press poll. Smart simply would rather his team look forward. Previous wins, such as the one over Kansas may add to a team's résumé, but unless those wins can result in more down the road, that résumé will be useless come tournament time.

Heading into Tuesday night's home contest against Iowa State, Smart continues to emphasize how much his team has to be on its game in any Big 12 contest. After all, Texas took down the Cylones in Austin to open last February but then turned around and suffered an embarrassing 81-52 loss 15 days later in Ames, Iowa.

Tuesday's game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the Longhorn Network.

"As I tell our guys all the time, it starts with our edge," said Smart. "We have to have an edge about us.

"We've got a really good Iowa State team coming in here that played West Virginia extremely tough, played Baylor extremely tough, and is certainly capable of beating us if we're not at our best. We have to focus on having that edge."

"If where you're ranked dulls your edge, then you're not a real competitor," Smart said Monday. "If your last game is still impressive to you two, three days later, then that doesn't really say much about what you're trying to be or where you're trying to go. You have to have an edge to you. There has to be a reason that you're here."

Though it seems that there is always a small part of a coach that would like nothing more than to bask in his team's success, the reality, Smart said, is that anything can happen in the world of college basketball. No opponent should be taken lightly, and there is no such thing as a "statement" game in this Texas program, despite what the outside voices, and members of the media might say. Every game is a "statement" game for the now-No. 4 Longhorns.

"We went to Asheville (N.C.) and played in that Maui Invitational tournament and Courtney Ramey said, ‘This is a statement game,’” Smart said. “Then the next game, he said, ‘This is a statement game.’ That is a sign of him really getting it and understanding that every time we get a chance to take the court, especially in this crazy season with all this uncertainty, the first thing that should be on our mind when we get to get on the floor is intense gratitude.”

But that is much easier said than done. Not paying much attention to the slew of "experts" who continue to give Texas such honors like "team of the week" is hard to resist, especially for young players, Smart noted. But lucky for him, the core of his team is not built on young players. Yes, freshman sensation Greg Brown has turned many heads, but the centerpieces of the team lie in the backcourt, in guards Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman.

Behind those three, the Horns have been able to stay grounded in their early success, with most everyone on the team looking back to last year as an example of what they need to avoid. Just one season ago, Texas was one of those so-called "bubble" teams in NCAA tournament predictions, an injury-prone squad marked by inconsistency. The previous shortfalls have stuck in the back of this team's mind, Smart said, and though it has worked positively as motivation, the past is not something on which the Longhorns should dwell.

"You can’t play and coach out of avoidance,” Smart said. “That’s been a real issue here at times. I don’t know if you talked to other coaches in other sports or not, but you can’t play not to lose. You have to go after the other team. You are in our way, and we’re trying to win, and we’re going to do everything under our control to win."

In addition to the three guards, senior forward Jericho Sims also has stepped into a critical role. That was no more evident than in the victory over Kansas in which he posted a double-double, tallying 11 points and 12 rebounds.

"I thought Jericho was the best player on floor (against Kansas)," Smart said. "We have an honor after every game that we let our guys vote on called the 'Domino of the Game,' just to try to acknowledge the guys that are most impactful. Normally it is just one guy, but in the Kansas game, the guys voted for Jericho and Courtney (Ramey). As much as it's great to have a double-double from (Sims), [and] the way he was on defense is by far the most important thing that he does. There's not a guy in the country that is as versatile defensively as Jericho."

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley