From dust-up to makeup
Longhorns shift focus to Jayhawks after ‘unique situation’ with guards
AUSTIN — Brothers fight. Sometimes it’s harmless. Sometimes it’s ugly. On Saturday at the Erwin Center, an on-court squabble between Longhorns turned ugly.
Texas guards Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones consider this team their second family. They treat it like a brotherhood. But the pair chose a terrible time to go at it in a blowup that sowed the seeds for West Virginia’s furious 19-point comeback.
The winds changed after Ramey accosted Jones during a stoppage with 15:52 remaining and Texas up 14. The former came at the latter for losing his man on defense and allowing an open 3-pointer. The confrontation escalated to a point the pair had to be separated, with senior guard Matt Coleman swooping in to drag away Ramey.
“Really, it was a unique situation,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said Monday. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in that exact situation when you’re up that many points. But then again, let’s be honest, this is a very unique time. The overall setting is very unique.
“So I think it’s more than anything about us again coming together as a team. Our guys have been really good with that. That’s what gave us a 19-point lead in that game.”
Whatever ugliness unfolded on the court has been smoothed over. Ramey and Jones, in their third season as teammates, patched things up postgame.
All that matters now is beating No. 17 Kansas (17-7, 11-5 Big 12) Tuesday night at the Erwin Center.
“When you’ve got two competitive people calling each other out — it just escalated,” Ramey said following that 84-82 loss to WVU. “Me and Andrew do a good job of talking things out, on and off the court. So we’re gonna continue to do that. As far as the little altercation we had, it’s in the past.”
No. 14 UT’s mojo has also been lost to the past, siphoned by incessant pauses and postponed games, bouts with COVID-19, and a ruinous winter storm that engrossed the entire state and led President Joe Biden to approve a major disaster declaration for Texas.
And now the Longhorns, as vulnerable as they’ve been all season, will face a Jayhawks team that has won five straight, including an impressive 67-61 home win over Texas Tech on Saturday. This is not the same Kansas team Texas pummeled in a 25-point win at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 2.
Junior forward David McCormack has been one of the driving forces behind KU’s resurgence. McCormack is averaging 15.4 points (on 55 percent shooting) and 7.9 rebounds this month. And he’s been a sturdy interior presence for a Jayhawks team that has held six of its past seven opponents below 67 points.
“He’s playing with great confidence. He’s playing with great aggressiveness,” Smart said of McCormack. “Just playing at a high level. And I would say offensively, that’s probably the biggest thing that stands out watching them on tape. But you’ve got quite a few guys on their team that are playing really well.
“And they’re sharing the ball with each other. They’re making plays for each other. They seem to enjoy each other’s success, and that’s a common trait when a team goes on a winning streak.”
That last bit about playing for each other and reveling in one another’s success could have been applied to Texas (13-6, 7-5) during its invigorating 10-1 start. But the Longhorns’ slip, as calamitous as it might seem, is still reversible.
Painful as its five conference losses have been, UT had a chance to win all but one. It lost to Texas Tech, Oklahoma and WVU by a combined five points. It fell at Oklahoma State in double overtime. Only No. 2 Baylor, which beat Texas 83-69, looked to be on an entirely different tier.
Texas has to adjust better against zone schemes, which it failed to do against WVU. It also needs to cut down on defending without fouling. Avoiding more midgame friendly fire wouldn’t hurt.
“You win those games as a team when you’re really, really able to have the connectivity we’ve talked about,” Smart said. “Then the other thing you continue to relearn as a coach over and over again, because you tend to remember the close losses more than the close wins, is that you’re going to have some go both ways.
“Andrew Jones had a game-winning shot opportunity at West Virginia. He had a game-winning shot opportunity at home against West Virginia. It’s easy for your mind to say, ‘Well, make them both.’ Yeah, that’d be great. But he made the one up there, and we won. The one here didn’t go in, and that wasn’t the only reason (for the loss). There’s a million reasons that we didn’t win. But that’s the nature of sports.”