Longhorns ready to make a run after challenging start to the season

Sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor goes up against Alcorn State with a spotlight dunk, leading to an 85-53 victory over the Braves. 

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak

 

So far the 2014-15 season hasn’t gone as smoothly as Texas may have hoped.

The Longhorns have already faced their fair share of adversity through the first two months of the season. Starting point guard Isaiah Taylor missed six weeks after breaking his left wrist in the third game of the season, while junior guard Javan Felix was banged up for much of the season, too.

The team then struggled to play cohesively at the start of conference play, dropping two of its first three games in in which it was favored. All of these challenges added up to account for four losses the first 16 games of the year for a team that entered the season ranked No. 10 in the nation.

“I think every team goes through [adversity],” said head coach Rick Barnes. “I know that we had to deal with some situations – the Isaiah situation, and Javan being hurt. That doesn't excuse the fact that we didn't compete like we had to. There's no excuse for that and that was our message to them. We don't have to be really complicated in what we are going to do, but we have to compete.”

The Longhorns are eager to make these early season challenges a thing of the past and go back to playing the way they did at the beginning of the year. Texas started the season 10-1, with its only loss coming on the road to No. 1 Kentucky, before dropping three of its next five games.

Texas appeared to make its first step towards returning to form on Jan. 17 with its convincing 77-50 home victory over No. 16 West Virginia. The Longhorns used their considerable size to bully the Mountaineers in the paint, the same formula they used to beat their much smaller non-conference opponents at the beginning of the year.

“Coming into this game [against West Virginia], we knew we had to play with that team [from the beginning of the year],” said senior forward Johnathan Holmes. “The team we had been playing with the last couple of months ago, if we would have come out like that, it would have embarrassed us, because they played really hard and they are a really good team. So we knew we had a week to prepare, get our minds right and pick ourselves back up.”

Holmes was one of three Texas big men to score at least 16 points in the victory, along with freshman forward Myles Turner and junior center Cam Ridley.  Ridley, who has had a down year after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2013-14, was especially key, as he set a physical tone down low for the Longhorns, and ended the game 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

“We talk about what our roles are and up to this point, I haven't been playing my role and doing the things that I should do,” Ridley said. “I changed my mind and wanted to do right and get better for the team.”

For the Longhorns, the reemergence of Ridley and the dynamic Texas frontcourt figures to be vital for a team still very much focused on winning a Big 12 title this season.

They’ve battled adversity all season long, and now the Longhorns are hopeful to put all of the challenges behind them.