After losing to Tennessee and dropping out of the top 10 last month, Texas has played its best defense of the season.
The eighth-ranked Longhorns look to get another stellar defensive performance when they visit Iowa State on Monday.
Texas (12-2, 1-0 Big 12) was ranked No. 2 for the first month of the season before consecutive losses to No. 1 Duke and Tennessee dropped the team to 15th.
“The losses helped us. I know they’re painful lessons to learn, but that’s why you play the schedule you play,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “It gets you ready.”
The Longhorns have won four straight games since those defeats, holding opponents to 28.7 percent shooting from the field and 52.3 points a contest.
“We want to create our identity right now, that we’re a defensive team,” Longhorns senior guard Kenton Paulino said. “The last few days at practice, coach Barnes has been emphasizing defense. He stresses helping each other on defense and closing options for the other team.
“Our defense has really improved in the last four games, ever since the Tennessee game. Defense is our top goal.”
Texas beat Colorado 89-64 in its Big 12 opener on Saturday behind the play of P.J. Tucker.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored 24 points for the second straight game and tied his career high with 15 rebounds. He’s averaging a team-high 18.5 points this season, and has four double-doubles in the last five games.
“It was a big point to start out strong, because last year we did not do a good job of that,” Tucker said of last season’s 4-5 start in the conference. “We really want to win the Big 12 this year.”
LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and nine rebounds against Colorado, and has shot over 50 percent from the floor in all 14 games this season. The 6-10 sophomore is shooting 68.0 percent from the field, tied for second in the nation.
“(Tucker and Aldridge) bring a lot of intensity and effort, that’s what it’s all about,” Texas guard Daniel Gibson said.
The Cyclones (11-3, 1-0) opened up conference play with their fifth straight victory, 72-70 over Kansas State on Saturday.
Will Blalock had a career-high 24 points, while Curtis Stinson finished with 17 points and had a key steal with 4.7 seconds left. Iowa State almost blew a 13-point lead late in the second half before holding on.
“Down the stretch, our defense has to be better,” Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan said. “I don’t like the way we finished the game.”
The Cyclones force 20.5 turnovers a game, and Stinson is averaging 2.5 steals a contest to lead the Big 12.
“(Iowa State’s) zone is very good,” Barnes said. “They’re clever. Their guards have good hands and do a good job of getting in passing lanes. They capitalize off of bad shots and turnovers just about as well as anyone in the country.”
Texas has lost its last two games against Iowa State, and has dropped five of its last six at Hilton Coliseum.