It was loud at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday — really loud.
Music blasted at every break. Balloons fell from the ceiling and Texas’ mascot, Hook ’em, rappelled from the rafters right before tip-off. Fans erupted as Texas scored the first three baskets of the day.
By the end of the game, though, the Kansas side was making all the noise with a 75–62 win over the Longhorns.
And now, with two home losses in conference play, No. 17 Texas’ dreams of a Big 12 title are already in serious jeopardy. Because of the loss, Texas dropped to 3-3 in conference play, good for just fifth place in the Big 12. The Longhorns now sit two games behind conference-leader Kansas, and they’ll need to be close to perfect down the stretch for a chance at the regular-season title.
“At this point, we have to take it one game at a time,” senior forward Jonathan Holmes said. “You can’t really look at the big picture. If we take one game at a time, I think everything will take care of itself.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Texas, as it travels to Ames, Iowa, to play Iowa State on Monday night. The Cyclones are 10–0 at home and handed the Jayhawks their only Big 12 loss of the season last week. Led by junior forward Georges Niang, Iowa sits two places above the Longhorns in the conference, having won four of its first five Big 12 matchups.
Texas struggled a lot down the stretch in its loss to Kansas — something it can’t afford to do against Iowa State. The Longhorns settled for outside jump shots instead of driving the ball inside and taking advantage of its size. The Jayhawk guards, however, had little trouble navigating the Texas defense and getting into the paint late in the second half, leading Kansas to convert seven dunks/layups in the final 10:04 of game.
“Our guard play’s got to get better,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “It’s plain and simple. We’ve got to get better guard play.”
Sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor, on the other hand, played well for Texas on Saturday and is expected to produce Monday. Taylor led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, as opposed to junior guard Javan Felix, who was scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting, and junior guard Demarcus Holland, who tallied just 6 points.
In addition to Texas’ shooting struggles, the Longhorns abandoned their inside game late. Texas stopped feeding the ball inside to junior center Cam Ridley and the rest of the big men, a game plan the team featured heavily in their last two games. Relying on the outside game proved to be unsuccessful for the Longhorns, who connected on just 3-of-18 three-pointers in the game — and 1-of-8 in the second half.
“We’ve played enough games now that we should understand what our identity is,” Barnes said. “We better play that from the very beginning, and we didn’t.”