This was supposed to be Texas’ chance to end the year on a positive note. An opportunity to solidify its NCAA Tournament chances was on the table. The feel-good narrative of sending out seniors Kerwin Roach II and Dylan Osetkowski on Senior Day offered a compelling headline.
Instead, the Longhorns put together their most uninspiring performance of the season against TCU in a 69-56 defeat that now leaves their tournament hopes hanging in the balance.
“I’ve never been as disappointed as I am right now,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “This isn’t who we prepared to be. This isn’t how we practiced the last three days.”
Despite knowing the magnitude the game carried, the Longhorns came out flat against the Horned Frogs. TCU killed Texas in the rebounding department, winning it by a 35-24 margin. And while the Longhorns struggled to shoot the ball against an active TCU defense, especially behind the 3-point line, they failed to play tough defense at the other end.
TCU exploited a defense which left players open on the perimeter and couldn’t solve the pick-and-roll game the Horned Frogs used. As a result, Texas allowed a 54 percent shooting percentage from the field and 53 percent from three.
The performance stemmed from a lack of desire and energy Smart has always urged his team to play with.
“We just didn’t have that spark and sense of urgency we usually played with,” Osetkowski said.
Forward Jaxson Hayes added, “We didn’t keep the same intensity we had.”
Both Texas and TCU knew its tournament chances hinged on what would occur on the floor. The Horned Frogs are firmly on the bubble, according to multiple projections, while the Longhorns teetered on the edge of securing an at-large bid thanks to a mediocre overall record.
But Texas didn’t look ready to play like a team with desperation. TCU did. More than anything, the Horned Frogs carried a do-or-die attitude into the Erwin Center, and the Longhorns left theirs in the locker room — a main reason why Smart was so disappointed following Saturday’s game.
“We talked about the fact that they were going to have urgency, even desperation,” Smart said. “We wanted to play with the same, or more aggression and fight. We didn’t have a collective spirit that we needed to have.”
Now, Texas finds itself in a situation where it will likely need to take down Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament in order to successfully resurrect its tournament hopes. If the Longhorns really want to secure their spot, it may even require a two or three-game winning streak in Kansas City.
To do that, the Longhorns feel they need to go back to their game-by-game attitude and block out the noise about their postseason prospects.
“Today was a tough one for us, but we got to prepare for Kansas,” guard Courtney Ramey said. “We can’t focus on NCAA this, this and that. We need to focus on the main goal, which is winning the next game.”
With a 16–15 overall record and a dismal last week of the regular season, selling Texas to the selection committee has become a harder task. Fans can feel that too.
At the two minute mark, a large contingent of Texas faithfuls streamed toward the exits, disappointed at what they saw. Students and burnt orange-clad parents groaned at Texas’ inability to score points in the game’s final minutes and its missed chances to grab rebounds.
The reality of missing the tournament started to sink in.
“We’ll see,” Smart said of Texas’ tournament chances. “We’re going to find out in Kansas City. We obviously have to play a lot better than we did today.”