Rick Barnes couldn’t have been more pleased with how his team went after Kansas. The Longhorns were more physical, had more energy and outplayed the No. 6 team in the country en route to an 81-69 victory.
Texas’ biggest victory of the season had the Frank Erwin Center rocking Saturday, too, but Barnes couldn’t have been more frustrated by the crowd chanting a familiar upset phrase in the final minutes of the game.
“Overrated” is not something Barnes enjoyed hearing from the 16,540 in attendance.
“I really think that’s the dumbest thing that fans have done,” Barnes said. “You just beat a team that’s no good? I never understand that chant. Kansas is not overrated.”
Texas is also not flying under the radar anymore.
Two weeks ago, all signs pointed to the Longhorns carrying the dreaded “bubble team” label. They were 2-2 in Big 12 play and their most impressive victory was at North Carolina in December.
A two-week stretch against four ranked teams had the makings of being a defining time for them. And it’s done that for sure.
Texas has gone from borderline NCAA Tournament team to one that is contending for a conference title and should be a serious player come March. The Longhorns have four consecutive wins over ranked opponents, a first in school history. They are the second team to do that this season, along with Kansas.
Are they ready for the spotlight?
“That’s the fun part of this,” Barnes said. “Now you’ll find out how good and how tough you are. That’s what you admire about Kansas. We had it [for a long time], but lost it over the last couple of years. It’s going to be fun watching these guys grow and handle this. We’ll see.”
If Saturday is any indication, they are in good shape.
Kansas coach Bill Self thought Texas freshman guard Isaiah Taylor, a lightly recruited player out of The Village School in Houston, was the best player on the court. That says something, considering KU boasts two players, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who could be the top two picks in the NBA Draft.
Taylor finished with a game-high 23 points, his second consecutive 20-point game.
Jonathan Holmes was a steady inside presence who scored 22 points and Cameron Ridley continued to show strides in his sophomore season. In fact, Ridley might have had the play of the game for Texas.
Early in the second half, Ridley hauled in a bounce pass from Damarcus Croaker and went straight to the rim. Two Kansas players, including the 7-footer Embiid, were in the area, but Ridley finished with a powerful two-handed slam while getting fouled.
Ridley knocked down his free throw to give Texas a 20-point lead, and the Longhorns stayed in control the rest of the way. Texas played solid defense, holding Wiggins to seven points on 2-of-12 shooting and Embiid to eight.
Texas guard Demarcus Holland defended Wiggins for most of the game.
“I knew he liked to crash the boards, so I tired to box him out every opportunity I got,” Holland said. “Cam and Prince Ibeh were scaring him, so he started settling for jump shots.”
Self summed up the game best: “I felt that Texas was the hungrier team today.”
Now, Texas needs to sustain that energy level and should have more fan support the rest of the way. Nobody knew what to expect from Texas going into this season after it lost several players who either transferred or turned pro.
But Texas has jelled into a team that has proved capable of competing with some of the top teams in the country.
“I’m really happy and excited for our guys,” Barnes said. “They went out and earned it. They deserve this kind of atmosphere. But the fact is we’re not even halfway through conference play. We’re a good team, but it’s such a fine line in winning or losing. You start drinking the poison and it gets away from you. We’ve got a long way to go.”