Time running out for Longhorns to realize potential

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Senior forward Shaquille Cleare protects the ball against the Sooners during Texas’ 66-70 loss on Tuesday night. Cleare and his team still hope to win against Kansas State on Saturday despite facing season-long woes.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

After Tuesday night’s loss against Oklahoma, senior forward Shaquille Cleare refused to believe that Texas had reached its full potential.

“This team is not even close to peaking,” Cleare said. “We’re a lot better than how we’ve been playing.”

The Longhorns (10–16, 4–9 Big 12) are running out of opportunities to prove they are better than their record indicates.

With only five games remaining until the Big 12 tournament, the Longhorns are in real danger of finishing the season under .500 for the first time since 2013.

Texas enters this weekend’s rematch with Kansas State as losers in three of the last four games and has shown its inability to correct the problems that have hindered the team all season.   

The Longhorns rank second to last in the Big 12 in both assists and points per game, a byproduct of the lack of an effective playmaking guard. Texas also continues to struggle shooting the rock, ranking dead last in the conference in three-point and free-throw percentages.

The team has dwindled near the bottom of the league in these categories since conference play started.

After few signs of improvement, it may be time to admit the Longhorns’ issues are intertwined in their DNA.

Still, head coach Shaka Smart agrees with Cleare that the team hasn’t peaked; its progress just hasn’t translated off the practice court yet.

“You get angry about certain plays and certain situations where something is going well in practice, in terms of execution and game plan, and it doesn’t carry over,” Smart said. “We just have to fix it and be better.”

The Longhorns have a prime opportunity to fix some of their issues against the Wildcats. Kansas State enters the contest in a major slump, having lost six of its last seven games. During the span, the team has struggled putting the ball in the hole, averaging only 68 points per game.

Kansas State has also suffered from lackluster defensive efforts. The team has surrendered 85 or more points in three of its last five matches, after only doing so twice in 21 games prior.

Despite the squad’s recent struggles, Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber feels confident about his team going into its match up with Texas.

“You have got tough times, you have got adversity,” Weber said after Tuesday’s loss to Iowa State. “You have got to rise up and have some character and toughness down the stretch. I feel good about our guys. We are going to come back on Saturday and play at a high level.”

When the two teams first linked up in late December, the Wildcats came away with a tight 65-62 victory. But a lot more is on the line this time around.

Kansas State finds itself squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. With wins over conference elites Baylor and West Virginia, the Wildcats want to shake off their recent stretch and continue to add to
their résumé.

Smart acknowledged Kansas State’s position and admitted it changes the game’s dynamics.

“Where a team is in the season is a very relevant factor,” Smart said. “(Kansas State) is going to be highly motivated to be in a position to come in here to get a win against us.”

The Longhorns can hurt the Wildcats’ tournament hopes and help validate Cleare’s assertion at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.