When the story is told of this 2016–17 Texas squad, it will likely include how the Longhorns were just a few plays here and there away from winning more games.
The ability to close tough games is a trait that is most often seen in more experienced clubs. Texas touts seven underclassmen, including four freshmen, who have played significant minutes.
“If this year’s freshmen were freshmen on last year’s team, they probably wouldn’t have played as much,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I think they would’ve played some.”
It’s no secret that the Longhorns have struggled immensely so far this season. Texas (7–10, 1–4 Big 12) has lost five of its last six games, including a demoralizing 63-58 home loss to Kent State on Dec. 27.
Texas’ lone win in the Big 12 thus far came at home against Oklahoma State, 82-79, on Jan. 4. But perhaps what’s most telling about this young squad is that it has lost five games by three points or less.
Texas has been close — really close. It nearly edged a top-10 opponent on Saturday at home in its 74-72 loss to No. 10 West Virginia.
But there’s no time for thinking about moral victories as Texas faces another steep test Tuesday on the road at No. 6 Baylor (16–1, 4–1 Big 12).
“The best thing about them is just how well-rounded they are,” Smart said. “They’re good in a whole lot of different areas. They have a lot of different things they do well.”
The Bears, who were ranked No. 1 last week before losing to West Virginia last Tuesday, are a Final Four-caliber team and are very tough to score on.
Baylor allows only 60.6 points per game, the fewest in the Big 12, and the lowest field goal percentage at 38.3 percent.
“Obviously with Baylor, for us on offense, the biggest thing is their defense is different with their zone,” Smart said. “It’s different than anything our guys have seen this year.”
One of Texas’ biggest challenges against the Bears will be containing junior forward and leading scorer Johnathan Motley. He comes in averaging a near double-double at 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
“He’s gotten better and better,” Smart said. “Coming from someone who redshirted his first year and now in his fourth year, I think he’s a poster child for what you can do if you develop and grow as a player.”
The Longhorns remain shorthanded heading into Tuesday night’s matchup as they will be without sophomore guard/forward and leading scorer Tevin Mack for a second-straight game. Mack remains suspended indefinitely after violating team rules.
The undermanned Longhorns tip against Baylor at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.