Shaka Smart walked into a dejected Longhorns locker room after a 78-64 loss to Baylor on Saturday.
But the head coach didn’t yell at his players. Instead, he simply talked to them.
“These guys don’t respond well to going off on them,” Smart said.
Smart, however, needs his team to respond, in one way or another.
The No. 24 Longhorns find themselves in the midst of another potential late-season swoon — they’ve lost three of their last four games.
The latest blow came Saturday when Baylor walked into the Frank Erwin Center and ran Texas off its home floor. The Bears forced three early turnovers, converted them into an early 6-0 lead and never looked back to hand the Longhorns a loss.
“We didn’t come out ready to play today,” junior guard Isaiah Taylor said.
It was the second-straight game where the Longhorns started flat. Texas struggled in the early minutes Tuesday against No. 10 West Virginia, going down 12-4 before the offense woke up to push the Longhorns to an 85-78 win.
But two slow starts in a row against ranked conference foes is worrisome to Smart.
“All of us need to do a better job preparing our team to start the game well,” Smart said.
The two sluggish starts come after the Longhorns had played solid basketball. They led at Oklahoma for most of the game, before losing it in the closing seconds, and pushed Kansas and Iowa State on the road before falling apart late.
Smart said the last two games, particularly Saturday’s, are a reminder that their identity is still up in the air.
“It’s really about our team deciding who we are,” Smart said. “It’s still something that we’re figuring out.”
Finding that identity on the road against Kansas State on Monday night won’t be an easy task. The Longhorns have won once in their last seven games at Bramlage Coliseum. Even then-No. 1 Oklahoma fell victim to the “Octagon of Doom” three weeks ago.
The Wildcats are also better than their 4 — 10 Big 12 record would indicate. They sit second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing 67 points per game. They nearly took Texas to overtime when the two met in January.
Smart listed items that Texas has to do better to ensure a win, including having more energy on defense. But Taylor said it comes down to one thing — their response.
“We just have to come out with more fight, more sense of urgency — a sense of focus just as a team,” Taylor said.