Texas reached the Big 12 tournament final, then left Kansas City convinced it can play better.
It needs too if the Longhorns are to make a concerted run in the NCAA Tournament.
They are on something of a slide. After controlling their destiny in the Big 12 race with an 11-0 start, which included a startling victory at Kansas, the Longhorns lost four of their last eight and stand 27-7.
Somewhat surprisingly, Texas was issued a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament after threatening to be on the one-line at one point in February. The Longhorns were grouped into the West Regional and open against Summit League champion Oakland (25-9) on March 18 in Tulsa, Okla.
The 85-73 defeat Texas suffered against Kansas in the championship game of the Big 12 tournament included an 18-point second half deficit. Although Texas whittled into that margin to crawl within eight, it never created enough intrigue to wonder about the final outcome, dropping to 0-5 when playing in the championship game.
"We just got down and kept trying to work our way back into it," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, "and every time we gave ourselves a chance, we either took a quick shot and made a poor decision, or we went down and made a poor decision on the defensive end and gave them either a pretty good look,"
The Jayhawks were supremely motivated by the opportunity to avenge their regular-season defeat, and the Longhorns can learn a lesson from that. If they summon the same kind of energy in the NCAA Tournament, they'll be a tough out.
The problem for Texas is lack of offensive firepower. Jordan Hamilton, a 6-7 sophomore wing, is the most dangerous threat. He can make difficult jumpers and also score off the dribble, but sometimes forces too much. Then again, he has to at times, since Texas doesn't have a consistent threat on the block, requiring either starter Cory Joseph or backup J'Covan Brown to catch fire along the perimeter, along with Hamilton.
Defense and rebounding carried Texas during its early Big 12 surge. Center Tristan Thompson is an enforcer underneath who jumped in as a freshman to become one of the league's top defenders. Forward Gary Johnson is good too at positioning himself on the boards, where the Longhorns enjoy a plus-6.6 rebounding margin on average.
It could be that Big 12 opponents simply figured out the Longhorns late in the season. Or it could be they're a fragile team like last year, when they lost 10 of their last 17, including a first-round NCAA game, after climbing to No. 1 with a 17-0 start.
"We're a good team. We can beat anybody," Barnes declared. "There's no doubt in my mind we'll be a team no one wants to play. We're capable on any given night to beat anybody."
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