Texas no longer has a superstar on its roster. The Longhorns may be a better team because of it.
The eighth-ranked Longhorns look to open 6-0 for the second time in three seasons when they host Texas Southern on Wednesday.
Texas returns home after an impressive 97-78 win over then-No. 7 Tennessee in the final of the StubHub! Legends Classic in New Jersey on Saturday.
It was another huge offensive night for the Longhorns, who are averaging 99.7 points and shooting 60.4 percent - 56.9 percent from 3-point range (41-for-72) - in their last three games.
Texas opened the season by shooting 44.4 percent in a 58-37 win over Texas-Arlington, but has improved in every game since and is shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 52.0 percent from beyond the arc through five games.
Though its opening-night struggles might have prompted concern for Texas in its first season without superstar forward Kevin Durant - who averaged 25.8 points in 2006-07 - the Longhorns are averaging 86.0 points per game. That’s slightly better than their 84.8 average over the first five games of Durant’s only season in Austin.
“I knew we were going to be a great team,” said guard D.J. Augustin, who had 23 points against the Volunteers. “We have to keep getting better as we go on. Kevin is off in the NBA and we wish him well, but we are moving on and becoming the team that we know we can be.”
Center Conner Athchley had a career-high 22 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, while leading scorer A.J. Abrams and sophomore guard Justin Mason each scored 21 points for the Longhorns, who start three sophomores and two juniors.
“Last year was Kevin’s team and this year it’s D.J.’s team,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said of Augustin, who’s averaging 7.8 assists. “Anytime you put a team in a great point guard’s hand, I think it will serve you very well.”
Texas used a 12-2 run to take a nine-point lead at the half Saturday and shot 63.6 percent from the field overall, while holding the Vols to a season-low 38.8 percent shooting.
While Augustin is averaging 17.0 points and 24.0 in his last two contests, Abrams has been even better.
The junior is averaging 22.8 points and 27.3 in his last three games. He had 20 points and five steals in Texas’ 90-50 win over Texas Southern last Nov. 28 in the only previous meeting between the schools.
Texas also appears to have improved defensively, allowing an average of 59.2 points through five games after yielding 61.8 in the same span last season.
“We’re better organized,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re a year older. We’re further along right now than we were in December, I can tell you that. I don’t think we’re anywhere we need to be, but we further along in understanding things that need to get done.”
Texas looks to win its 15th consecutive home game over a non-conference opponent Wednesday when it faces Texas Southern (1-4).
The Tigers, who are opening with seven straight road games, look to avoid a fifth consecutive loss after falling 83-35 at Kentucky on Saturday.
Guard David Burrell had a team-leading 11 points for Texas Southern, which scored its fewest points of the season and shot 20.8 percent (10-for-48) against the Wildcats.
Texas Southern has lost its last nine games versus ranked opponents.