Given a few days to reassess after implying that the Longhorns would spend the next few weeks auditioning for their scholarships, Rick Barnes seemed to retreat from that position.
On Saturday night, after Texas fell to 12-15 (4-10 in the Big 12) by losing to 13th-ranked Kansas State, Barnes was asked if there is anything the Longhorns could possibly achieve in the five remaining games they are guaranteed.
“Who’s in?” Barnes responded. “When it goes like this, you find out who checks out. If they check out, decisions will be made.”
By this week, Barnes was more forgiving after watching tape of a game that the Longhorns lost 81-69.
“After games sometimes, I’m probably as bad as anybody about my emotions,” Barnes said. “I’m disappointed. Any time you have big expectations and they are not reached, you are disappointed. When you step back and evaluate the film, our guys are playing really hard.”
But not accomplishing much. Barring a four-game sweep of the Big 12 championship in Kansas City to earn an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament, the Longhorns will miss the event for the first time during Barnes’ 15-season tenure, another slip in a five-year decline of the program.
Texas is exceptionally young — six freshmen, five sophomores, no juniors or seniors among the recruited scholarship players.
On the other hand, the Longhorns have played 27 games. As Kansas coach Bill Self said recently of another Big 12 team, Oklahoma State, this late in the season, “their freshmen are now sophomores and their sophomores are now juniors.”
Everybody knows that the Longhorns have faced difficult circumstances. Sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo, their best player, was suspended by the NCAA for the first 23 games. Sophomore forwards Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes missed 11 and five games, respectively, with injuries.
At least twice this season — including in mid-February — Barnes told reporters he envisioned the Longhorns as undefeated had all his players been available the entire season. Eyes rolled.
Regardless, now the gang’s all here, and has been for the last four games. The Longhorns won two of them, a nice victory against Iowa State in the Erwin Center and one that was a little too close for comfort at TCU. They’ve also been crushed twice, by Kansas and Kansas State.
Kabongo scored a career-best 24 points against Kansas State, but the Longhorns still trailed by 19 in the second half, prompting Barnes to say that tryouts might be in order — until he opted for a more understanding approach this week.
He contrasted the Longhorns with more experienced K-State.
“I know they don’t understand the fine line between winning and losing,” Barnes said. “Kansas State, you can see their maturity, where they finish possessions whether on offense or defense. On the offensive end, particularly, we break out of what we want to do. Too many guys want to make it happen themselves.”
Early in the season, Barnes cited Holmes for his consistent effort. Before suffering a broken right hand at Oklahoma on Jan. 21, Holmes was averaging a solid 7.4 rebounds a game. His 8.1 a game scoring mark was modest, but he had averaged 12.3 in his previous three games.
Since returning to the lineup, Holmes has averaged a meager 3.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in four games. Holmes produced no points and one rebound in 13 minutes against Kansas State.
“I don’t know if he’s pressing,” Barnes said. “I don’t think he’s in as good a shape as he was. I think he’s back to looking like he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself.”
TEXAS VS. OKLAHOMA
8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2, 1300, 98.1
*assists per game
About this game: Texas center Cam Ridley, who missed the Kansas State game Saturday with an infected right eye, has been cleared to play. Guard Julien Lewis, who missed the second half of that game after being hit in the right eye, will miss the game (concussion). … Oklahoma (18-8, 9-5 Big 12) beat the Longhorns 73-67 on Jan. 21 in Norman. Longhorns forward Jonathan Holmes suffered a broken right hand that night and missed the next five games. Texas failed to contain Osby, who scored a career-best 29 points. Sophomore Sheldon McClellan matched a career best with 25 for Texas.