With two games remaining in the regular season, Texas sits at second-to-last in the Big 12 standings, poised to finish with its worst record in over 30 years.
The NIT, much less the NCAA tournament, is all but out of reach for the Longhorns.
Despite having little to play for, head coach Shaka Smart urges his team to approach Wednesday night’s contest against Texas Tech with intensity.
“Are you a competitor?” Smart asked his players. “Because if you are, every time you take the floor, in any game and any practice, you’re trying to compete to win. That’s a culture that we’re trying to build where in our program competitiveness is nonnegotiable. It’s not something you turn on and off.”
Smart has never finished with a losing record as a head coach at the collegiate level. His squads have accumulated at least 20 wins in all seven of his seasons, qualifying for postseason play nearly every year.
Losing is something that Smart clearly isn’t accustomed to. But in the face of this adversity, the coach remains driven to inspire his team.
“I think that he’s handling (a losing season) fantastic,” freshman forward Jarrett Allen said. “For anybody, a losing season is going to be hard, but he’s keeping everybody’s spirits up. It’s phenomenal.”
Smart and Texas travel to Lubbock in search of the first road-win of the season.
The Longhorns squandered several opportunities to notch a win outside of the Frank Erwin Center earlier in the season. The team held second-half leads at Oklahoma and Georgia, but faltered down the stretch in close losses.
In Texas’ first road contest of the season against Michigan, the Wolverines snatched a victory with a late basket in the last 20 seconds.
Smart believes this early-season loss altered the trajectory of the season.
“I remember thinking then — with a young team, with the challenges that we knew we’d have later in the season — that this really was a game that would have meant a lot if we win it,” Smart said. “It’s a win that you have in your pocket and you can tell your guys we beat a good team on the road.”
Notching that elusive road victory won’t be easy against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have posted a stellar 15-3 mark at home this season. Two of those losses, against conference powers Kansas and Iowa State, came by a combined three points.
When the two teams met on Feb. 1 in Austin, Texas managed to escape with a 62-58 victory after a late three-pointer from sophomore guard Eric Davis Jr.
For the Longhorns to win this time around, freshman guard Andrew Jones believes the team must rally around its coach’s competitive fire.
“We’ve got to follow coach (Smart’s) game plan,” Jones said. “Right now we’re a good team but we don’t play hard. We’ve got to learn to trust each other more and go out and play for the whole game.”
Texas looks to send off Smart’s second season on a high-note. The Longhorns tip off against Texas Tech at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and finish the regular season at home against Baylor on Saturday.