A three-game losing streak paired with a trip to Norman to battle No. 23 Oklahoma didn’t appear to be an appetizing meal for Texas’ plate.
But with the Longhorns’ season seemingly pushed to the brink, Texas head coach Shaka Smart’s squad made a concerted effort and played the best brand of basketball the program has seen since the Longhorns’ win over Oklahoma in Austin on Feb. 3.
Texas completed the season sweep over the Sooners on Saturday with a 77-66 road victory — the program’s first win in Norman since 2012. The Longhorns (16–11, 6–8 Big 12) completed a rare wire-to-wire win and surged in the second half on a 12-0 run from about the 13-minute mark to the 9-minute mark to spoil Oklahoma’s Saturday in front of its home fans. Oklahoma has now lost five in a row.
Smart recycled several key strategies that vaulted Texas over Oklahoma back on Feb. 3.
The primary way to beat the Sooners is to lock down the likely Naismith Award winner, Trae Young. The star freshman point guard scored 26 points on Saturday, but for the second time this season, the Longhorns forced him to earn those points in an inefficient manner.
Young shot 33 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three. It wasn’t until Texas had built a comfortable lead in the second half that Young connected on his first triple, ending a cold streak of 20 consecutive misses from long range.
The Longhorns employed freshman point guard Matt Coleman and junior guard Kerwin Roach II as the chief “Trae Young stoppers.” The two played incredible defense and didn’t allow anything easy from beyond the arc, where Oklahoma shot 8-of-30 as a team. Roach and Coleman combined for 23 points, but Texas received its greatest offensive boost from a familiar contributor.
Junior forward Dylan Osetkowski had struggled with his shot lately, faring 14-of-49 in his last five games. But the junior finally delivered the critical performance Texas fans have been longing for with a 21-point, six-rebound outing.
Although his shooting efficiency and resurgence from beyond the arc showed up in the stat sheet, Osetkowski’s game was defined by his hustle. He anchored key sequences in the second half, including rejecting a 3-pointer that led to a fast break, collecting a key offensive rebound and finishing with a momentum-swinging dunk to stave off an Oklahoma comeback with five minutes to go.
With Osetkowski returning to his high offensive caliber from nonconference play, Mo Bamba wasn’t relied on as much offensively. But the touted freshman center corralled a season-high 18 rebounds and stuffed four Oklahoma shots in the 11-point victory. Bamba’s interior presence, combined with the Coleman-Roach backcourt combo, hampered Oklahoma’s ability to score from anywhere on the court.
The win is especially vital for a multitude of reasons. Texas’ tournament odds sharply increased after knocking down another ranked opponent. The Longhorns now share the same conference record as the Sooners (6–8) and match them in the overall win column (16), inching Texas closer to the upper tier of the Big 12.
Texas failed to build momentum after its last victory over Oklahoma, but Smart knows the Longhorns cannot afford to release their foot from the gas pedal in the team’s final four games of the regular season if they want to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
Texas can sustain this level of play, but it'll require a collective effort from the team’s starters, as evidenced by Saturday’s win. The Longhorns take the floor again on Wednesday night when they face Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, hoping to avenge a home loss to the Wildcats on Feb. 7.