Texas’ matchup with Texas Tech on Wednesday features two teams performing on the opposite side of expectations.
The Longhorns (8–13, 2–6 Big 12) entered the year as the No. 21 team in the nation and appeared ready to contend for a Big 12 title. But now, almost halfway through conference play, Texas sits second to last place in the conference and has lost eight of its last 10 games.
As for Texas Tech, the team entered the season with a degree of uncertainty. The Red Raiders (15–6, 3–5) lost their top-two scorers from last year’s campaign and brought in a new head coach in Chris Beard. The team was picked to finish seventh in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
But Texas Tech has shown the ability to hang with the Big 12’s best. The squad owns wins over No. 7 West Virginia and then-No. 25 Kansas State, and it almost gutted out a win in Waco against No. 2 Baylor.
Head coach Shaka Smart praised how the Red Raiders have come together.
“They have that synergy together as a team and they have been terrific,” Smart said. “They’ve had a really good season so far. They play with good poise and I think coach Beard has done a good job of getting them to buy into what he wants them to do.”
Poise is something that the Longhorns have lacked this year, especially in late-game situations. Texas has played in 10 games decided by five points or fewer this season, faring only 3–7 in those contests.
In their 59–57 loss to Georgia last Saturday, the Longhorns again faltered down the stretch. The team possessed a nine-point halftime lead, but struggled executing in the second half and ultimately fell short. Smart said his team’s late-game execution must improve.
“In those last five to six minutes of games—when we’re in close games—we’ve got to do three things a little bit better,” Smart said. “Be solid on defense, take care of the ball and make our free throws. If we can make strides in those areas, that late game stuff, then I’ll feel like we’ve made some real strides.”
The Red Raiders are led by a bevy of efficient scoring options. The team boasts five different players averaging at least eight points per game, four of whom are
shooting near or above the 50-percent mark.
Texas Tech junior guard Keenan Evans leads the team with 14 points per game and has been on a recent roll, scoring double-digits in each of his past eight contests. Junior forward Zach Smith has complemented Evans by averaging nearly 15 points over that same span. The forward is coming off an impressive 25-point outing against LSU.
According to Smart, the Red Raiders’ arsenal of offensive weapons has aided in their success.
“They have really good versatility as a team,” Smart said. “(Texas Tech is) playing well when they have different guys coming at you. For instance, they’ve got bigs that can step out on the perimeter. They’ve got some big perimeter players that can go around the basket.”
The Longhorns take on the versatile Red Raiders tonight at the Frank Erwin Center, with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.