The Longhorns’ Big 12 tournament run was over before it had a chance to start.
Texas opened its quarterfinal match up against Baylor hitting just five of its first 23 shots, allowing the Bears to jump out to an early 25-12 lead. The Longhorns eventually fell 75-61 Thursday afternoon, its first loss in its opening round of the conference tournament game since 2005.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow saying that right now after I know this game meant so much to us, but for them to — for me to say they out worked us is tough,” head coach Shaka Smart said.
The team started the game strong, taking an 8-6 lead behind six quick points from senior forward Connor Lammert.
But the game soon turned into a repeat of the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 27.
The Longhorns struggled again to find offense against the Bears’ 1-3-1 zone, resorting back to passing the ball around the perimeter for most of their possessions. When the ball found its way to the paint, Texas struggled to make shots. The Longhorns made just two shots in over a 10-minute span and got out rebounded 15-6 on that end.
“Their zone is tough,” Lammert said. “They have some long guys and they’re very active. But we didn’t hit those shots. We had some good looks, though.”
Meanwhile, the Bears used the opportunity to run away and hide with the game. Baylor went on a 19-8 run behind 7-of-14 shooting and eight offensive rebounds, en route to a 38-27 halftime lead.
Texas, however, didn’t go away quietly in the second half.
Junior forward Shaquille Cleare began finding success down, scoring six of his 12 points early in the second half to keep the Longhorns in the game. Senior Prince Ibeh followed that up with eight points down in the paint. Lammert and freshman guard Kerwin Roach also added 11 and 6 points respectively as the Longhorns trimmed a 19-point deficit to 8 points with 5:08 left to play.
But Baylor senior forward Taurean Prince proved to be too much for the Longhorns. Prince scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half to lift the Bears to the 75-61 win.
Smart said they knew Prince would be a threat, but simply failed to keep from scoring.
“He’s going to shoot a lot, it’s just a matter of how efficient he is,” Smart said. “And we allowed him to be too comfortable. When you give a guy like that comfort, he’s going to have a big game.”
The Longhorns are still a lock to make the NCAA tournament despite the loss. Texas will learn its fate for the tournament on Sunday night when the brackets are released.
But the Longhorns have now lost five of their last nine games, including blowout defeats to Baylor and Kansas. Still, Smart said he’s not worried about the loss of momentum headed into the NCAA tournament.
“To me, as a coach, it’s more about we’ve got to play better, you know, and all the things that go into that,” Smart said. “So momentum would be great. We don’t have that. But what’s more important is all the things that go into winning.”