Dylan Osetkowski hates talking about last year’s loss against No. 1 Duke. The senior forward has watched the game’s final minutes countless times, reviewing how his team lost a 16-point lead. He still thinks of ways the Longhorns could have closed that game out.
The loss came during an early season tournament in November, but Osetkowski still believes an upset victory could have changed the trajectory of the season.
“It frustrates me to this day that we didn’t finish that off,” Osetkowski said.
Nearly a year later, the Longhorns will walk into circumstances similar to that Duke game at the Las Vegas Invitational this week. Texas, like last season, is undefeated entering a November tournament and once again facing some of college basketball’s best teams.
On Thursday, Texas faces the Blue Devils’ chief rival, No. 7 North Carolina. Then, a date with either No. 11 Michigan State or No. 17 UCLA awaits Friday.
While teams frequently emphasize the importance of focusing on each game individually, the Longhorns recognize the opportunity that comes with squaring off against nationally recognized teams like they’ll see this weekend.
“This is a reason guys come to college to play basketball,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “No disrespect to any other games, but our guys will tell you they’re certainly excited to play a game against a team like North Carolina or whichever team we see in our second game.”
Texas started the season with a 4–0 start, but will be the lone participant in the four-team field that isn’t ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. The Longhorns, who lost to Duke last season, understand the significance this weekend can have in terms of playing themselves into the national conversation.
When talking to the newcomers on the roster, those returning players have reiterated that the Longhorns have the talent to win against the touted teams they’re facing even though they don’t generate the same hype.
“You’re humble, but at the same time, you’re hungry because you know you’re just as good as those guys,” guard Matt Coleman said. “We all spend time in the preseason to put on a show against another highly notified team.”
Coleman was part of the team who saw its lead evaporate against the Blue Devils. Like Osetkowski, he’s worked on different areas to ensure he won’t endure a loss like that again. That includes not only improving his shooting and offensive play, but becoming a vocal leader.
All of that work is done so that he and the Longhorns are prepared for whatever moment arises — even in a November tournament.
“I feel like we worked so we don’t have the same outcome as last year,” Coleman said. “If we do go up, we’re able to hold that lead. And if we’re down, we’re able to fight back and finish it off.”