Texas men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart has a big number in mind for center Cameron Ridley’s workload in Friday night’s NCAA Tournament matchup against Northern Iowa.
Smart is hoping for a 10-fold increase in the two-minute outing Ridley gave him in last week’s loss to Baylor at the Big 12 tournament, the senior’s first game action since undergoing surgery for a broken foot in December. Although team doctors will make the final call on playing time when No. 6 Texas (20-12) meets No. 11 Northern Iowa (22-12) in Chesapeake Energy Arena (8:50 p.m., TBS), Smart said he’s “optimistic” Ridley (6-foot-10, 290 pounds) will give him something close to a starter’s minutes based on improved practices in the past week.
“I’m hoping 20 minutes,” Smart said when asked about Ridley’s anticipated playing time. “We’ll see what they tell me going into the game. But right now, we’re very optimistic that he’s going to be able to play significant minutes. He’s been doing a good job.”
Until breaking his foot in a December practice, Ridley averaged 12.7 points and 10.0 rebounds during the Longhorns’ first 11 games. During Ridley’s absence, Texas has struggled against taller, physical teams.
Ridley said he cleared a “mental hurdle” in practice last week and anticipates being able to play through aches and pains against UNI. In last week’s return, coaches lifted him after two minutes when he reported discomfort in hope of maximizing his minutes in NCAA play.
“I’ll play as much as I can,” Ridley said. “My foot feels great right now. It feels like it’s back to normal. Like it was before I got hurt.”
That does not mean Smart anticipates a double-double performance, although he would welcome one in efforts to extend the season for Ridley and fellow seniors Demarcus Holland, Javan Felix, Connor Lammert, Prince Ibeh and Danny Newsome.
I’ll play as much as I can. My foot feels great right now. It feels like it’s back to normal. Like it was before I got hurt.
Texas center Cameron Ridley
“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect him to be exactly what he was,” Smart said. “But just him being out there gives us a shot in the arm in terms of his presence. And if he can play sustained minutes out there, now he can help us from a rebounding standpoint. He can block shots. And, hopefully, we can get him the ball around the basket.”
Texas A&M guard Danuel House said the Aggies (26-8) are “not respected at all” by peers despite their No. 3 seed in the West Region.
He made his comment in response to complaints that Kentucky, which shared the SEC regular-season title with A&M, received only a No. 4 seed after defeating the Aggies to win the SEC conference tournament. House pointed to A&M’s 4-0 record against Big 12 opponents, including victories over NCAA-bound teams Texas, Baylor and Iowa State, as evidence A&M deserved the seeding nod over its SEC rival.
“We look at it like we played a tougher strength of schedule. And then we won games and they helped us out in the long run,” House said.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said his biggest concern about living up to the team’s No. 2 seed in the West Region revolves around the accuracy of his long-range shooters.
OU (25-7) meets No. 15 Cal State-Bakersfield (24-8) in its NCAA opener.
“We aren’t shooting it consistently from 3 [point range] as well as we did in the first half of the year,” Kruger said. “Different guys have gone through ups and downs with confidence in shooting the 3. But I think, right now, we’re probably playing defensively as well as we have all year.”
Excited for rematch
Texas guard Javan Felix did not hide his excitement about a possible Sunday game against rival Texas A&M if the Longhorns and Aggies win their NCAA openers Friday.
A&M defeated Texas 84-73 on Nov. 25 in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the teams’ first meeting on the hardwood since A&M left the Big 12 and joined the SEC for the 2012-13 school year.
“I think it would mean a lot, especially since we lost to them early on in the season,” Felix said. “But that’s not really our focus right now.”