The Longhorns will be forced to leave their comfort zone in order to complete a season sweep of No. 10 Texas Tech.
Texas hasn’t returned from a road trip victorious since the first day of 2018, and the team’s last go-around away from Austin ended in a humiliating 35-point loss at West Virginia. This trend doesn’t just affect Texas. Since Dec. 31, Big 12 teams are a whopping 8–28 in conference games on the road.
Led by a scoring outburst from junior shooting guard Kerwin Roach II, Texas was able to handle the then-No. 8 Red Raiders’ sixth-ranked defense at the Frank Erwin Center on Jan. 17, upsetting Texas Tech, 67-58. But escaping with a victory in Lubbock on Wednesday night will be no easy task. Tenth-ranked Texas Tech stands an unrattled 13–0 at home this year, dismantling four ranked teams at United Supermarkets Arena.
“They say defense travels, so that’ll be put to the test for sure on Wednesday,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “I think it starts with our mentality and having an understanding that to create success for our team, it must start on the defensive end. It must start with a level of mental toughness and a commitment to all the small details that go into defending a team like Texas Tech.”
To continue their impressive win streak in Lubbock, the Red Raiders will have to focus their efforts on Texas freshman phenom Mo Bamba. The five-star recruit arrived in Austin with plenty of hype, and he’s finally living up to it by adding elements of physicality and consistent shooting to his arsenal of talents.
“Mo’s come a long way,” Smart said, calling Bamba a six out of 10 on a 1–10 physicality scale. “His first five to eight games of the year, he was like a two. He’s come a long way with that. He needs to continue to understand that if he can be lower and get his hips into guys on post-ups, that will be to his advantage.”
Bamba’s last two outings have been his best all season, totaling 49 points, 27 rebounds and seven blocks to lead Texas to consecutive victories for the first time since mid-December. In these two games, he’s shot 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and 16-of-17 on free throws.
“You knew it was just a matter of time,” Smart said of Bamba’s breakout. “He’s done a better job rebounding, getting to the foul line and he’s wide open on (3-point) shots.”
Texas Tech’s stars primarily play further away from the paint than Bamba. The Red Raiders’ three double-digit scorers all play in the backcourt, including point guard and leading scorer Keenan Evans. Evans was held to just 11 points in the Jan. 17 loss to the Longhorns. But the senior from Richardson, Texas, has recovered with 26 and 31 points in back-to-back performances.
If the Red Raiders hope to preserve their home excellence, Evans and the rest of the Texas Tech backcourt must rely on their outside shooting, because driving on the Texas frontcourt duo of Bamba and junior power forward Dylan Osetkowski is no easy task.
“(Texas Tech) is a challenge to guard because depending on lineups, there’s probably going to be some mismatches in terms of some of our bigs having to guard some of their perimeter guys,” Smart said. “We just have to be on edge and firmly committed to our defensive principles.”