Shaka Smart's Longhorns are turning into one of the most exciting teams in America, rolling downhill in a cloud of dust. Texas (15-7, 6-3 Big 12) moved to 4-2 versus ranked opponents with a big win Monday over No. 15 Baylor – its third straight. Stretch forward Connor Lammert scored 15 points, with three clutch three-pointers – including one that put the Horns over the top with less than a minute remaining. The Horns move to within a half-game of Oklahoma and West Virginia, both tied atop the Big 12.
It got chippy after Prince Ibeh and Baylor power forward Rico Gathers had an altercation that led to Isaiah Taylor's involvement with Gathers, the two exchanging some specific words. Gathers and the UT guard, who had 12 points and 9 assists, got double technicals. Taylor would explain to ESPN: "Just two aggressive teams coming to compete. Sometimes emotions flare. Both teams stayed poised." What you had to love, as a UT fan, was how Taylor instantly stuck up for his big – showing some of that "connectedness" Smart has preached since his arrival.
The win builds on Saturday's Big 12/SEC Challenge 72-58 victory over likely NBA pick Damian Jones and the Vanderbilt Commodores. Now firmly in the Big 12 Coach of the Year talk, Smart's "Havoc" defensive system continues to blossom with each game, as his pit bulls – er, guards – have upped the focused aggression.
The story of the season, post-Ridley, has been the emergence of Ibeh as a legitimate NBA prospect and an ideal end-to-end, rim-protecting big in Smart's system. Even with just nine points and six rebounds, Ibeh more than held his own against 6'8" and 275-pound monster Gathers – both an NFL and NBA prospect. Even when Gathers bodychecked Ibeh to the floor, trying to intimidate the young center, Ibeh rose to the occasion, as in his match-up with Vandy's Jones.
The Longhorns are at home Saturday (Feb. 6) against Texas Tech – which would be a critical win, because of the following match-up on Monday, Feb. 8, at No. 1 Oklahoma.