When it comes to discussing the surprising season that No. 25 Texas has enjoyed up to this point, the prevailing story is one of a team that made multiple additions by subtraction with talented players who had little desire to be a part of Rick Barnes’ program hitting the road. Is there truth in that? Yes, there is. Regardless of the walk of life, having people around who have no desire to be a part of that environment can drain the energy from the other members of a group.
But in evaluating these Longhorns, it’s time to have the conversations focus on the improvements that the players on the current roster have made. And in their 81-69 win over No. 6 Kansas on Saturday afternoon, returnees and newcomers alike displayed the progress they’ve made throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
Freshman guard Isaiah Taylor scored 23 points and junior forward Jonathan Holmes added 22 to go along with five rebounds to lead the way offensively for the Longhorns. As a team Texas shot 43% from the field and attempted 45 free throws (making 30), with their aggressive play before Kansas began giving fouls in the final three minutes factoring into that number.
This win wasn’t just about offensive production however, as Texas also got the job done on the glass (38-32 rebounding edge) and defensively. Demarcus Holland grabbed 11 rebounds, and centers Prince Ibeh and Cameron Ridley more than held their own against a deep front court led by star freshman Joel Embiid. They blocked three shots apiece (Holmes also finished with three blocks), with Ridley scoring nine points and grabbing ten rebounds.
Texas limited Kansas to 38% shooting, ending a stretch in which the Jayhawks shot 49% from the field or better in seven consecutive games. The last time Kansas shot worse than 49%? That would be in their home loss to No. 5 San Diego State, with the Aztecs possessing the athleticism and length needed to neutralize Andrew Wiggins and company in the paint. Texas had the ability to do the same, and on Saturday they did just that to great effect.
Texas is now one game out of first place in the Big 12, a spot few (if any) expected the Longhorns to be in before the season began. With the departures and last year’s disappointment, the general consensus was that this group would struggle and Barnes would be on the proverbial hot seat. But this season hasn’t worked out that way, and the biggest reason why is the fact that the remaining players have improved not only during the offseason but once the season began as well.
Can Texas win the Big 12? At this point anything’s possible, and for that Barnes and his players deserve all the credit.