Against UT-Arlington on Tuesday, the Longhorns looked like the team ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
They struggled shooting, couldn’t control the ball and looked as though they were just trying not to lose. After halftime, a different Texas team came out. The Longhorns attacked the basket, made their shots and finished the game in overtime.
Head coach Shaka Smart wants that Longhorn team to come out every game.
“We’ve got to go out and play with an aggressive, confident, loose approach towards attacking the game,” Smart said. “We’ve got to go after the win as opposed to playing not to lose.”
Against Washington on Nov. 13, senior guard Javan Felix missed two consecutive 3-pointers to seal a loss in China. The Longhorns clawed back from double-digit deficits to get within striking distance against both Michigan and Texas A&M in the Bahamas. Again, they didn’t find a way to take the lead.
Three-pointers from freshman guard Eric Davis, Jr. and senior forward Connor Lammert late in overtime against UTA broke the cycle of late-game struggles.
After the game, however, Smart said he was frustrated the players played tight in the first half.
“The focus has to be what goes into winning, because if it’s about the result, you look up at the scoreboard, and we’re down four in the first half or whatever, then you start freaking out,” Smart said.
Junior guard Isaiah Taylor said Smart told the team during halftime simply “go play.” The Longhorns did just that, shooting 53 percent in the second half and overtime including seven 3-pointers.
Taylor also came through, scoring 21 points — all in the second half and overtime. He attacked the basket more in the second half, drawing fouls and shooting 13-of-17 from the free-throw line.
Smart said Texas must worry less about the immediate result.
“We’re not going to stop and throw our process in the trash,” Smart said. “We’re going to build it.”
Texas will continue that process when it hosts Samford on Friday night in the second of five straight home games.
The Longhorns welcome the long home stretch after traveling 17,000 miles the first two weeks of the season. Taylor said he thinks Texas will regroup during that span.
“We knew that we were not going to be perfect,” Taylor said. “We didn’t expect this start. But it happened, and we are going to battle back from it.”