Texas has at times looked like one of the elite teams in the country, not to mention a top contender for the Big 12 title. The Longhorns, however, have had some of their weaknesses exposed in their first pair of consecutive losses.
The 16th-ranked Longhorns look to bounce back from back-to-back home losses with their eighth straight win over Nebraska when the Big 12 rivals meet Saturday in Lincoln.
Texas (15-6, 4-3) won nine of its first 10 games this season, and spent much of the season’s first two months ranked in the top 10.
The Longhorns, though, have dropped consecutive home games for the first time since falling to then-No. 2 Kansas and then-No. 13 Oklahoma State on Feb. 11 and 20, 2002.
The Longhorns gave up a Big 12 record-tying 44 points to Kansas State’s Denis Clemente and trailed by as much as 17 points in an 85-81 overtime loss that snapped their 19-game home winning streak last Saturday. They were then outscored 40-31 in the second half of a 69-65 loss to Missouri on Wednesday night.
“It goes back to accountability and guys just simply doing their job,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “I’m not worried about confidence as much as plain and simple everyone doing their job. It’s the breakdowns. Not the toughness, it’s the details. The mental side’s got to be razor-sharp too, and we’re not where we want to be.”
Texas forward Dexter Pittman had a career-high 25 points in 23 minutes off the bench while shooting 9-for-12 from the field and 7-for-10 from the free-throw line against Missouri. The rest of the team, though, went 16-for-47 (34.0 percent) from the field and 5-for-10 from the line.
It’s a surprising slump for a Texas team that started the season strong after returning four starters from last season, when it advanced to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve just got to figure out our team identity,” said the 6-foot-10, 300-pound Pittman. “Everybody’s got to find their role and when they figure out their role they’ve got to come with their ‘A’ game every night.”
After entering the season as one of the top contenders in the Big 12, Texas finds itself back with the pack. It hopes to get back on track against a Nebraska team it’s beaten seven straight times. The Cornhuskers’ last win over the Longhorns was an 80-67 home victory on Jan. 13, 2001.
The Cornhuskers (14-7, 4-4) have reason to be optimistic after a strong showing against the then-No. 9 Longhorns last season. They rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 61 before eventually falling 70-66 in Austin on March 4.
After dropping four of its previous five games, Nebraska has won its last two—both on the road. It overcame 18 turnovers and 13-for-24 free-throw shooting to hold on for a 55-53 victory over Colorado on Wednesday night.
“That just shows how tough we are,” guard Sek Henry said. “Our free throws were pretty bad. This is really big for us in our conference and especially knowing that we beat Colorado for the first time since (coach) Doc Sadler has been here. That helps us a lot and that gives us a name and people have to start looking out for us.”
Texas probably didn’t need that reminder after overlooking its last two opponents.
“We’ve got to be smarter, and we’ve got to stop playing streetball,” Longhorns senior guard A.J. Abrams said. “…We’ve got to do something to right this right now.”