Shaka Smart is just as much a motivator as he is a basketball coach.
The second-year Texas head coach has the uncanny ability of turning subtle experiences into teachable moments.
When watching last Sunday’s Super Bowl game with his players, a 25-point comeback win by the New England Patriots resonated with a message Smart has preached to his players all season long.
“You learn a lot,” Smart said at his Monday press conference. “It’s another example about responding and playing to win and all those sorts of things.”
Respond — it’s the key term Smart has uttered time and time again this season. It’s a challenge that the Longhorns have at times risen to and other times fallen
But on Tuesday night against Iowa State, in a game where Texas once held a 17-point advantage in the first half only to see it evaporate late, Smart’s group did indeed respond.
Freshman forward Jarrett Allen knocked down a pair of free throws to stave off the Cyclones’ rally.
“Sometimes when you have a lead down the stretch — you just saw it in the Super Bowl — you want to kind of hold onto that lead,” Smart said. “But a lot of times in basketball, it just doesn’t work out for you. We have to learn to play when we have a lead and play aggressive, just as aggressive as we would be if we were behind.”
Now the Longhorns will have to answer the bell in a way they have failed to do all season — win a game away from the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas’ record outside of Austin speaks for itself — 0–10.
This makes this Saturday’s road trip to Stillwater to face a solid Oklahoma State club at 3 p.m. that much more intriguing. In what has been a season of losses, Texas (10–14, 4–7 Big 12) has been a completely different team on the road.
Many of the crucial late plays Texas has made at home haven’t been made to closeout road games.
“It’s one of the things that this team really needs to get going — just getting rebounds, getting extra possessions, getting extra attempts,” senior guard Kendal Yancy said. “That’s what we really need.”
Texas won this season’s first meeting with Oklahoma State in Austin on Jan. 4, 82-79. Sophomore guard/forward Tevin Mack, who’s missed the last eight games because of an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules, carried the Longhorns on that night with 27 points.
Oklahoma State (15–9, 4–7 Big 12) heads into Saturday’s matchup playing its best basketball of the season. The Cowboys had been on a five-game winning streak prior to their Wednesday night loss to No. 6 Baylor.
Oklahoma State took the Bears to the wire and had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer, but ultimately fell 72-69.
That five-game winning streak had included an 82-75 upset win over No. 13 West Virginia on the road last Saturday. After back-to-back games with top-15 opponents, Texas is hoping it can catch the Cowboys off guard.
“That’s what we like,” senior forward Shaquille Cleare said. “We like to be the underdogs.”