By Riley Zayas
AUSTIN, Texas — “Our guys really want to do well,” Texas men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart said, “but sometimes you can kind of get wrapped up in your own game and your own mind, if you’re not careful.”
Smart’s quote perfectly applies to this past week, as at certain points, the Longhorns were in sync, but at others, things just seemed to unravel at the worst possible time. Despite a home crowd behind them, the Longhorns could not pull out a victory Wednesday night, falling to Oklahoma, 67-57.
Still seeking their first conference win, the Horns took on Kansas State Saturday night, defeating the Wildcats, 64-50, in front of a crowd of more than 8,000 fans.
This week, the Longhorns are hoping the momentum from Saturday night’s victory can propel them as they visit Oklahoma State Wednesday and then battle No. 3 Kansas Saturday afternoon in Austin.
Like the Longhorns were this week, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State still are seeking their first Big 12 victory heading into this home game against Texas. The Pokes have played two of the tougher Big 12 teams already, as they began conference play against then-No. 22 Texas Tech and took on then-No. 17 West Virginia the following week. In their most recent game Saturday, they traveled to Fort Worth and fell to TCU in a 52-40 defensive battle.
During non-conference action, they played a balanced schedule of both Power Five programs and non-D1 teams, and host UT with an overall record of 9-6. Among some of OSU’s notable opponents are Syracuse, which they beat, 86-72, and Ole Miss, which they beat easily, 78-37.
One of their biggest leaders on offense in both of those marquee wins, as well these past three games in conference play is Texas native Isaac Likekele, who is in just his sophomore year. In his freshman season, he emerged as a star on the wing, becoming just the second Cowboy freshman to post at least 120 assists and at 40 or more steals in a single season. While Likekele averaged 13.1 points per game in non-conference play, he has been shut down on offense during these past three games, only scoring a total of 19 points. Stopping Likekele will be important as he does a lot for the Cowboys’ offense, whether driving the lane for a basket, pulling down a rebound or dishing out an assist. He also leads the team in steals, with 23, and assists, with 43.
Texas forward Jericho Sims has not had a day off during Big 12 play, always having to face off against another great player in the post. Wednesday will be no exception as he most likely will go head-to-head against Oklahoma State big man Cameron McGriff. The team leader in rebounds with 102, McGriff is not a guy Texas wants to send to the line too much because of his 88 percent shooting from the line. Texas also will have to keep an eye on 6-foot-10-inch Yor Anei, who leads his team with 34 blocked shots.
While the Cowboys should not be overlooked, that game appears to be a mere warmup compared to what awaits the Horns Saturday. In a game that often draws some of the Erwin Center’s biggest crowds each season, Texas will attempt to follow in Baylor’s footsteps and upset the Jayhawks … just like it did last season.
Kansas lost to No. 4 Baylor, 67-55. That will be all the motivation the Jayhawks will need to play great basketball this week, as they take Oklahoma Tuesday before facing Texas Saturday. KU’s tournament résumé is quite impressive. The Jayhakws rebounded from an early season, two-point loss to Duke as motivation to win the Maui Invitational, beat No. 25 Colorado and No. 17 West Virginia in the conference opener.
Kansas head coach Bill Self’s skilled squad is led by a duo of talented guards, Marcus Garrett and Devin Dotson, along with an All-America senior post player in Udoka Azubuike. Garrett and Dotson are both elusive ball handlers who will force the Longhorns to closely defend the three-point arc all game, as each has shot better than 30 percent from three-point range this season. Dotson also has been the Jayhakwks’ defensive leader, with eight steals in the past three games, including four against West Virginia. Down low, Azubuike, is perhaps the Big 12’s best center, a huge threat in the paint, on both the offensive and defensive end. This season, he has averaging 12.6 points per game and has brought down 41 offensive rebounds. On defense, he has been just as tough, with 93 defensive rebounds and 35 blocked shots, each of which was a team high. This trio will be “triple trouble” for the Horns and has the potential to make a spectacular play every time any of them gets his hands on the ball. Stopping them won’t be the only key to getting a win in this one, but it sure appears that it will be a large part of it.
As Smart put it after the Kansas State victory, “It’s all about finding a way to win.”