For about 13 minutes of on-court time, this was Texas basketball at its absolute best.
The action crackled.
The fans were engaged. (No, neither of them rushed the court afterward.)
The players played smart, winning basketball.
The overpowering stretch run and overtime victory in Wednesday’s Texas-Oklahoma game rekindled electric memories of days gone by. Abe Lemons calling out Eddie Sutton and threatening to rip his Sunday clothes off. Kevin Durant lighting up the Aggies. T.J. Ford dribbling his way to the Final Four. Tom Penders’ BMW group racing to the Elite Eight.
And it did again on Wednesday night, overall records notwithstanding.
Texas ran off 13 unanswered points. Myck Kabongo played like Myck Kaboom, blowing up the Sooners with his explosive play as he rattled off 31 points to give him 55 in his last two games. OU withered against the Longhorns’ relentless full-court press.
Yes, those moments have been more the exception than the rule this season. And, yes, it may have been just a glimmer in the darkness. But maybe it was a significant glimmer. At the very least, it was glorious.
The Longhorns’ comeback from a 22-point deficit against the Evil Empire showed what could be or at the very least what could have been. One emotional high ranking Texas staffer, flush with excitement over the team’s biggest win of the year, sidled up to a reporter in the hallway and screamed, “This is the team we would have had if our compliance department hadn’t (mucked) it up!”
He made a very valid point. Texas turned in its own Myck Kabongo — without legal representation — for lying to compliance officers about a trip to Cleveland paid for by others for a workout with a pro trainer last off season. That resulted in a 23-game suspension.
Had that not happened, this would have been the club that might have flirted with being one of the best in the Big 12. (Of course, had Kabongo not taken the trip at all, the team roster would also have been intact for the bulk of the season. He’s hardly blameless.)
But let’s move beyond all that for a moment. This game played out before an uncertain television audience and a small, but very loyal and very raucous crowd at the Erwin Center. And those who stuck it out got a glimpse of what could be possible next season.
This season is already gone, barring a miracle of the sort that happened against the disrespecting Sooners and Amath M’Baye and his taunting Horns Down gesture. But if you’re the sort whose glass is not only half-full but overflowing, the type who really likes to dream, this game could leave you with an unlikely cocktail of intoxicating hope and anticipation.
Just imagine the possibilities, if Kabongo would come back for his junior season and if prized 6-foot-9 recruit Julius Randle arrives for his first. Then you would have something.
Neither may be likely, of course. But then neither was the prospect of a 13-15 season and a 5-10 league record. Most assume Kabongo will leave early for the NBA. And the chances of landing the uncommitted Randle weren’t helped by his visit to Kansas on the same weekend the Jayhawks blew out the Longhorns. Randle did not respond to texts Thursday.
Without either or both of those potential stars, Rick Barnes could be in a bad way next season too because the team would be devoid of special playmakers. But the exciting prospect of such dynamic players inside and outside, combined with the return of promising big man Connor Lammert, Royal Ivey-like defensive stud Demarcus Holland, the energy of Ioannis Papapetrou and Jonathan Holmes, and the shooting of Javan Felix, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis, could return Texas to the ranks of the elite.
Publicly, Barnes declined to look that far ahead this week. But you can bet he’s thought about it privately. His tenure at Texas could hang in the balance.
“I’m still not done with this year,” said Barnes, who almost certainly will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his 15 seasons at Texas. “We’ve had some really good wins. You can always play the what-if game, but you always have something to play for. Pride or whatever. There’s not a team in the country that wants to play Texas.”
Well, there might be a few. Let’s not get carried away.
Let’s just savor Wednesday a bit longer. With only three regular-season games remaining, it can’t resurrect the season, but at least it gave use a glimpse of what might have been and what still might be in the future.