The Longhorns are walking on pins and needles right now. That’s not good for a team still trying to prove that it’s tournament worthy, and Oklahoma (14-14, 4-12 Big 12) will try to be the edge that hopes to pop Texas’ bubble next.
Texas (18-11, 8-8 Big 12) won the first contest against the Sooners, which marked the final win in its small four game win streak. Texas is 1-2 since then, and hasn’t played its best basketball. After narrowly escaping the Red Raiders over the weekend, the Longhorns will need to turn in a stronger all-around performance to make up for one of their worst statistical trips to Lubbock in years.
They squandered yet another double-digit lead, which the Longhorns also did in the game prior against then No. 7 Baylor. Texas beat Tech 71-67 in overtime, but not without the help of some last minute heroics from veteran guard and Big 12 scoring leader, J’Covan Brown. Head coach Rick Barnes hasn’t been happy lately about the games Texas has cashed in.
“We don’t understand momentum,” said Barnes after beating Texas Tech. “We don’t understand how to build on it or understand the flow of the game.”
If Texas can take its first halves against Texas Tech or Baylor last Monday, and pair it with the second half it turned in against Oklahoma in the teams’ first contest, the Longhorns would look like the squad Barnes wants to battle the Sooners with tonight.
Texas rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to beat Oklahoma 69-58 in Norman, Okla., in mid-February. Brown was big in that game as well, and it’s his leadership that the Longhorns will need to help set the tone early against the Sooners.
That same leadership helped navigate Texas late against the Red Raiders. Knowing when not to shoot is just as important to Brown as pulling the trigger, so when Texas Tech ramped up its defense with a floating defender shadowing him at all times, Brown didn’t panic.
“I didn’t want to force anything,” said Brown after notching 14 points. “I knew my guy was going to stay with me, and the game turned into 4-on-4. The other [teammates] adjusted to it.”
His patience and confidence in his teammates will need to be on full display tonight against the Sooners. Texas will have to work within its offense to produce quality shots against an Oklahoma team that can clean the glass. While they aren’t the most accomplished team in the league — they have only won one of their last nine games — the Sooners are the second-best rebounders in the conference led by junior Romero Osby. Osby pulls down 7.7 boards along with a respectable 12 points per contest.
Also hoping to help Oklahoma pull off the road win is the Big 12’s fifth best scorer, Steven Pledger. Pledger’s 17 points a game are even more impressive knowing that he does it with 47 percent shooting from the field.
After every game, Barnes, Brown and the rest of the Longhorns are questioned about their “sense of urgency.” Brown says urgency isn’t the issue any more. He sees that his team is practicing hard and understands the stakes they’re playing for. But he also sees a team whose inexperience makes it difficult to adjust in game-mode.
“Every game now is a must–win for us. We got to find ways to take the energy that we put into practice and put it on the court for 40 minutes,” Brown said. “We can practice for two hours or three hours, and go hard at each other and make each other good, but we have to take it to the court.”
Texas is currently tied for fifth in the conference, and a loss to the eighth place Sooners could pit Texas against a top-tier Big 12 team early in the conference tournament. UT is on the bubble, and it’s a precarious place to be. A win against Oklahoma could put them on much safer ground before the Longhorns close out the season against No. 4 Kansas.