Shaka Smart will be the first to admit he’s tough on Matt Coleman III. When the sophomore guard stepped on the Texas campus, Smart warned Coleman he was going to push him harder than other coaches would.
All of it, Smart said, in an effort to help Coleman become the program changing player that the head coach expected he could become. While Texas’ starting point guard has struggled at times this season to take the next big step in his sophomore campaign, he showed significant flashes of the player Smart believes he can develop into on Wednesday night.
During the Longhorns’ 84-72 victory over Baylor, Coleman played with a controlled aggression and helped engineer one of the team’s best offensive efforts in Big 12 play. He collected 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, only turning the ball over twice in the win.
In the 38 minutes Coleman was on the floor, Texas outscored the Bears by a 17-point margin.
“I just had a little bounce in my step,” Coleman said. “(There was a) seriousness, aggressiveness about me just wanting to win. We got eight games left, and it’s wide open for the taking, so I just want to take advantage.”
The Norfolk, Virginia, native played with explosiveness and vision that he’s lacked against other teams the Longhorns have faced this season. He consistently pushed the ball down the floor, found his open teammate in the half-court and was able to knife through Baylor’s zone defense with his quickness off the dribble.
His display on Wednesday comes just one game after an improved effort against Iowa State, despite Texas coming up short against the Cyclones. For Coleman to make performances like his last two a regular occurrence, Smart wants him to balance his joy for the game with an obsession with the details.
“Before he even came here, I told him you’re at your best when you’re having fun,” Smart said. “The other edge of that sword is the serious approach to every little thing. It’s his job to not let that take away from having fun and attacking.”
Finding that balance will be key for the Longhorns as they progress through the last half of the Big 12 schedule. When Texas’ guards are playing at their best, the team is capable of outclassing any team in the conference.
And with the Longhorns teetering on the edge of earning a tournament bid, they need each conference win they can get.
“The team goes, the guards go,” guard Kerwin Roach II said. “Last year, when our backs were against the wall, you know the team leaned up on (me and Matt). We just need to do it more consistently. We do that, we can really make a run.”
The season has presented ups and downs to Coleman. He’s experienced the highs of beating blue blood programs North Carolina and Kansas, and he’s suffered through humiliating losses against Radford and Georgia.
Coleman has looked tired and frustrated at times in those losses, disgruntled by what has been an inconsistent season for the Longhorns. But on Wednesday night, Coleman looked like he let that frustration slip away.
With over seven minutes left in the game, Coleman dished a beautiful no-look pass from behind the arc to a wide-open Jericho Sims who promptly rattled the rim on a thunderous dunk. Coleman skipped to the other end of the floor and let out a smile.
He once again found the joy for the game he loves.