Statement wins have been more than a feasible accomplishment for the 2018-19 Texas Longhorns. While Texas succeeds at laying down the foundation, the team has been incapable of building on that soil thus far.
Texas (12–10, 4–5 Big 12) knocked off No. 11 Kansas at the Frank Erwin Center last Tuesday, marking the program’s third AP Top-20 win of the season. However, the Longhorns moved to 0–3 in games following their ranked victories, after Iowa State clung on to a 65-60 victory last Saturday.
“In the Iowa State game, our details and some of the things that go into us — scoring, stopping them in the last six minutes of the game — we didn’t do that and that’s why they won,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “From the standpoint of our guys’ connectivity, it was a step in the right direction and now we need to continue taking steps.”
Texas fared 2–6 in its last eight games — a stretch which included five ranked opponents — but it is granted an opportunity to sharpen its conference standing against several unranked opponents, starting with Baylor (15–6, 6–2 Big 12). Despite the Bears’ status outside the AP Poll, Baylor sports a .750 conference winning percentage — tied for first in the ultra-competitive Big 12.
“Baylor’s playing phenomenal basketball right now,” Smart said. “They’re really playing — I would say, out of everyone in the league — with the most urgency and the most aggressiveness. As a result of that, they’re having a lot of fun playing basketball, so we have to do a great job matching and exceeding that.”
The Bears ride a 6-game win streak entering the Erwin Center, but recently, their wins have evolved into dominations. Baylor stormed into Oklahoma and exited with a 77-47 annihilation of the Sooners. Then, Baylor capitalized on the obliteration by wrecking TCU, 90-64.
“They’re playing with an aggressiveness, an edge, something to prove,” Smart said. “Last week, they blew two teams out. They flat out took them out. It’s on us to make sure we come into this game with a high level of spirit and a high level of energy, because we know from watching what they’ve done that they’ll be that way.”
Baylor’s offense is engineered by 6’1” point guard Makai Mason, who pitched in 40 points during the 26-point TCU win. Mason proved lethal from long range, where he connected on nine of 12 threes. Since returning from Ames, Smart has preached to his backcourt the dangers Mason can present the defense.
“It’s a heck of a challenge. He’s a really crafty, intelligent, aggressive player,” Smart said. “He’s really good at getting his own shot off, and when you give him attention, he’s really good at finding his teammates. He can make something out of nothing, particularly at the end of the clock.”
Although Texas stands in the midst of a struggle, Smart’s squad thrives in its own gym. The Longhorns are 2–0 in their last two Frank Erwin Center visits, with three of their next four games transpiring in their familiar habitat. With Kansas finally crossed off the list, Baylor is the sole Big 12 team Smart has not defeated at home since landing the Texas job in 2015.
Smart’s opportunity to check that box off and continue the push toward March Madness arises at 7 p.m. CT in Austin.