Shaka Smart, Texas basketball are 'here to win' on unprecedented senior night
Texas’ senior night won’t have the same pop it did last year. Instead of a roaring crowd of nearly 13,000 fans anxious to see the Longhorns try to win their sixth straight game and firmly thrust themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture, Texas will play in front of less than 3,000 spectators and compete in just its second game in 10 days. The emotion of the scholarship seniors bidding farewell to Frank Erwin Center will be dubious and uncertain, as all four have the option to return for a fifth season in 2021. Even the game itself isn’t guaranteed. Texas has already had six games canceled or postponed this season, including one last week. But if its senior night matchup against Kansas on Tuesday is played, which it is scheduled to as of Monday morning, it can count on head coach Shaka Smart imploring his team to use basketball as an outlet for the frustrations of this season and lock in on an opportunity to sweep Kansas for the first time in program history. “I think for our guys, just like players around the country, there certainly is a lot going on,” Smart said in a Monday teleconference. “It’s easy to fall into the tendency of, ‘Man, I wish it was like it was over a year ago in terms of circumstances,’ but wishing and hoping don’t really do much for you.” Instead of wishing and hoping they didn’t have two games canceled last week due to the winter storm that iced over roads in the state and forced millions of Texans to go without power and water, Smart said the Longhorns are going to focus on the same principles he’s preached for all six of his seasons in Austin: losing themselves in the team and competition. The Longhorns have been able to cut loose and enjoy themselves when they’ve been fully immersed in games and put the team’s success first, Smart said, which he added they did in the first half of their last game against West Virginia when they cruised to a 10-point halftime lead. They even had fun for the first few minutes of the second half and claimed a 19-point advantage before an altercation between redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones and junior guard Courtney Ramey caused momentum to fully flip to the Mountaineers in the 84-82 loss. “I think the response (to the West Virginia meltdown) has been good… I really appreciate their passion, (but) it’s our job to make sure that passion is directed in the right way,” Smart said. “It was a unique situation. I don’t think I’ve ever been in that exact situation when you’re up that many points… so I think it’s about us again coming together as a team. … [I]t’s about putting together 40 minutes of connected, passionate, intelligent, poised basketball.” If the Longhorns are able to harness the connectivity they showed in their 84-59 win in Lawrence in early January, they should have no trouble with Kansas on paper. But the Jayhawks are in a considerably different position than they were in the last matchup and playing noticeably better, Smart said. Smart is taking the dominant 25-point blowout victory, the worst Kansas has ever suffered at home, with a grain of salt now that the Jayhawks have won five straight games to storm back to the upper crust of the conference. However, the game still has significant importance to both Big 12 standings and national seeding given Texas hasn’t defeated a ranked opponent since Jan. 9. Tuesday night, Smart and the Longhorns will try to reclaim the early-season momentum that guided them to the biggest win of his tenure and move past the difficulties of the last week. “Let’s face it –– in the last week, there were a lot of things bigger than basketball going on in this region of the country,” Smart said. “But when we have the opportunity to play, we’re here to win.” here .