Big 12 Sports Articles

HCS Op-Ed: Longhorns Need Late Season Push to Make NCAA Tournament

After four straight losses, including near misses in Norman and Lawrence, the Longhorns craved a late season marquee win. That was satisfied with Monday’s win against #14 Baylor.

The 61-59 overtime win was the team’s third against a ranked opponent this season, but it did not come easy. Baylor had taken Texas to school in the season’s first matchup on January 31st in Waco. The Bears jumped out to a 12-0 lead and blew out their most played basketball rival 83-60.

Monday’s game began in the same direction with an early 9-3 lead by the Bears.

They dominated second chance opportunities with an 11-3 edge in offensive rebounds in the first half, but their halftime lead folded in the second half. The Longhorns’ defensive stops and threes cut their opponent’s lead to one with 12:56 to play.

The game was tied at 54 after the teams traded runs. The Longhorns followed the Bears’ 13-4 run with a 11-4 run. Prince Ibeh answered the Longhorns’ call for a defensive stop in the final minute of regulation. His block on Kenny Chery on Baylor’s final possession of regulation was the most impactful play down the stretch.

“The Drum” was rocking and the momentum was in the Longhorns’ favor. The game headed to overtime and Javan Felix drained a three on the Horns’ first possession. It was the home team’s first lead since the opening minutes. Isaiah Taylor scored the Horns’ final two baskets, including the game winning floater with 4 seconds remaining.

Squeakers like Monday’s game can result in streaks. The confident victor is motivated to continue their high level play after energy was well spent in a previous hard fought battle.

That applies to the Longhorns. Why can’t they make a run in March?

They have as much talent as any team in the Big 12. Some say in college basketball, after an early season #6 ranking in the national polls.

I don’t think they are bound to replicate last year’s improbable tournament run by the Connecticut Huskies, but I do think they have a run in ‘em.

Their sights are on Saturday’s home finale against the Kansas State Wildcats, and next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. Their future beyond that is up in the air.

The Selection Committee chooses the 68 schools headed to the Big Dance, but Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology is a good measuring tape where a team’s stock stands among other programs this time of the year. The Longhorns are currently among his First Four out, but they control their own destiny.

A win on Saturday earns them a seventh seed in next week’s conference tourney. If they upset a few teams and win the Big 12 tournament, they earn an automatic berth to the Big Dance. They could be the lower seed that no one wants to face.

In my mind, they are bound for the NIT if they achieve anything short of a Big 12 conference championship berth. If they lose on Saturday or get upset in the opening round, they will fall short of their 16th NCAA Tournament berth in the past 17 seasons. If they can’t knock off at least two ranked conference foes in Kansas City, they probably won’t have the resume to sneak in.

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