Oklahoma’s 80-79 win over Texas on Jan. 26 in Austin, Texas, sent the Longhorns reeling.
Texas hung with the then-No. 24 Sooners despite being down two starters, a key reserve and their coach, Shaka Smart.
The loss was the first of three consecutive defeats for Texas.
Entering Tuesday’s rematch against No. 9 Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., the No. 12 Longhorns (13-5 overall, 7-4 Big 12) appear to be back on track, having won back-to-back games.
Texas guard Matt Coleman III said the Longhorns were back to the form that led them to a 10-1 start.
“Yes. Give you a simple answer: Yes,” Coleman said regarding Texas’ resurgent confidence. “With the games being played, with the practices that we’ve had, it allowed us to reconnect and focus on each other and understand our circle — that’s what we call it — of why we play and the process in order to win.”
Smart said Coleman and Courtney Ramey, one of the players who missed the first game against the Sooners, were big factors.
“Those guys kind of have to spearhead our defense,” Smart said.
Smart also said Jericho Sims, the other starter held out against Oklahoma, has played a major role in Texas’ improvement, especially with his aggressiveness on the pick and roll.
The Sooners (13-5, 8-4) have won two straight and seven of their past eight.
Their 91-90 double overtime win at No. 14 West Virginia moved the Sooners to second place in the conference behind undefeated Baylor.
The Longhorns are one of three teams within a game of Oklahoma in the standings.
Oklahoma has dealt with absences of their own: Brady Manek and Jalen Hill missed time in early January due to COVID-19 protocols, and Austin Reaves and Alondes Williams missed time beginning in late January.
Reaves and Manek have been big parts of the Sooners’ past two games.
Reaves has averaged 22 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his two games back.
“Every team has a guy they look to for security and for reinforcing confidence in the squad — Austin certainly does that for our guys,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “They have a lot of confidence in Austin, and he played with a lot of confidence.
“He’s been fantastic.”
Manek missed just two games after testing positive for COVID-19 but took some time to get back to form.
Over the last two games, Manek has returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench for five games and he’s shooting better than 50 percent from the field, making all of his shots inside the arc.
The game is the first of three this week for Texas, which also plays at Iowa State on Thursday before hosting West Virginia on Saturday. The game against Iowa State was originally scheduled for Jan. 20 but was pushed back after the Cyclones were forced to pause team activities due to COVID-19 protocol.
“It’s more about the mental side and being connected,” Smart said of the biggest challenge. “We’re going to focus on that, and then we have to turn the page.”
–Field Level Media