The Austin Chronicle

Perilous Road Ahead for UT Men's B-Ball

By Mark Fagan, January 17, 2011, 5:43pm, The Score

Though UT’s Jan. 8 home loss to Kemba Walker and No. 10 UConn was hard to digest, the (14-3) Horns have since inflicted their residual anger on the Big 12’s little sisters of the poor. Their back-to-back stampedes of Texas Tech and Oklahoma have further demonstrated that this year’s team is too good and too resilient to feel sorry for themselves.

To this intermediate point in the season, UT has won or been a hair shy of victory in 16 of their 17 contests, and of their three losses, the team fell to No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 10 UConn by a combined three points. The lone blemish on an otherwise sterling campaign occurred on December 5 at USC, where the dark-horse Trojans imposed themselves on the visiting Longhorns, winning convincingly, 73-56.

Texas’ claim to its current No. 12 ranking was forged by the impressive six-game winning streak that followed the Los Angeles debacle — wins on the road against North Carolina and Michigan State, chiefly. It would be a minor miracle if UT could replicate that triumphant tear with another in response to their deflating 81-82 home overtime loss to UCONN. While their latest blowout wins over Tech and Oklahoma bode well for a similar rampage, the road ahead is as perilous and replete with land mines as UT has seen, and will see, all (regular) season. The Big 12 is conclusively the second-best conference in America – behind the stacked Big East – and the Longhorns have been an instrumental cog in its prowess; but so have No. 3 Kansas (17-0), No. 14 Texas A&M (16-1), and No. 15 Missouri (15-3), all of whom UT is set to play between now and January 31.

The belated hype surrounding Rick Barnes’ squad will either be buoyed or zapped depending on how they fare against the other Big 12 behemoths. The Longhorns and Aggies will get a double-dose of each other — Wednesday night at the Erwin Center, and again on January 31 in College Station — with the teams having split last year’s season series, 1-1. Both the Aggies and Kansas Jayhawks are streaking and steamrolling like Chris Farley at an SNL afterparty: A&M has won 13 straight and boast wins over No. 15 Missouri, No. 17 Washington, No. 19 Temple, Arizona, and Oklahoma State. Given this compact A&M bookending — and a January 29 home tilt against No. 15 Missouri sprinkled in for additional sadistic measure – the shadowy schedule-makers couldn’t have chosen a less opportune time for the Longhorns to visit the site of the nation’s longest home winning streak. The Kansas Jayhawks’ last home loss, period, occurred on November 15, 2006, when bizarrely enough, they were felled by the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles — of the Summit League – 71-78. The legend of Kansas’ mounting home winning streak began just four days later against Towson, and it can end this Saturday afternoon, providing UT can elevate their game to Oral Roberts-like proportions.

The Longhorns and Jayhawks butted heads last February in Austin, and Bevo got beaked-up and given the bird. If UT can avenge last years’ 68-80 home loss by doling out a punitive, and streak-snapping victory at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, the team will possess another profound road victory, one that would easily outshine the win they wrested from the Michigan State Spartans in Lansing. Though fans and observers might be tempted to overlook the Aggies on the 19th in favor of fixating on college basketball royalty, the Jayhawks, the Longhorn’s certainly won’t, and can’t, lest they want to seep into Kansas on a down note.

Many Top 25 teams feature an irrepressible scorer surrounded by a serviceable cast with markedly less offensive punch — Kemba Walker of UCONN and Marcus Morris of Kansas, for example. The Longhorns, on the other hand, are blessed (and to a small degree, cursed) with offensive parody: Jordan Hamilton’s 19.2 points per game lead the team, but Tristan Thompson (12.8), Gary Johnson (12.0), and Cory Joseph (11.4) have each proven their capacity to take charge when others momentarily falter and run cold. Each of these leaders will need to play to their potential if the team hopes to barge into the Top 10. Let’s hope they do, as many UT basketball fans have proven to be fair-weather in nature.

Vs. Texas A&M: Wed., Jan. 19, 8pm. Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River. $8-40.

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