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Texas HC Shaka Smart's process paying off for the Longhorns

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At the beginning of the season, the Longhorns had a long way to go to get to here. But they made it. Oh man, did they make it.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

If the Texas Longhorns played like they had been there before in ripping of a 22-0 run to overwhelm the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday in the Erwin Center, it was because they had.

No, it wasn't that they had played before a crowd like that before in Austin. They hadn't. It wasn't that they had beaten Oklahoma recently. They hadn't.

What they had done was prepared for exactly the situation that faced them with a little more than seven minutes remaining when Sooners star Buddy Hield hit a jump shot to extend the Oklahoma lead to 58-51.

Preparing for exactly that type of situation was part of new head coach Shaka Smart's process, according to the players:

In a way, UT's run had been in the making since last fall, when in preseason practice Smart instituted a regular feature called a "six-minute game." A score would be put on the board with 360 seconds on the clock, and players would scrimmage until it was over.

One day, UT forward Connor Lammert said, they played seven six-minute games in a row. Guard Javan Felix said three things were stressed in those games — making stops, making free throws, and taking care of the ball.

And during Saturday's outcome-deciding run? The Longhorns made 11 stops in a row. They went 8 for 8 from the line. And they didn't commit a turnover.

"We did have a pretty good six-minute game," Felix said, laughing. "I'm going to go tell (Smart) that."

Evident in the run was the type of confidence and joy in being there that defines these new-look Longhorns under Smart. At a time in the year when most teams under former head coach Rick Barnes cratered as a result of advanced scouting and getting ground down by Barnes' teaching techniques and a long conference season, this Texas team is soaring despite the late December loss of star big man Cameron Ridley.

Underlying Smart's philosophy is a consistent message:

You either have to do something or you get to, and the difference in attitude can determine success or failure.

"The mind is a powerful thing," Smart likes to say. And so by following and inculcating Smart's process, the Longhorns were "connected" throughout the game on Saturday, their head coach said in the aftermath. Smart even acknowledged that what often happened in previous seasons at Texas is typical for college basketball teams at this time of year. Just not this one.

"This time of year everyone is a little bit tired, everyone is a little bit run down and there is a lot that is asked of these guys," Smart said. "Our guys dug deep and found the energy and togetherness to get those stops."

They dug deep and found the energy and togetherness not because they had to, but because they got to, on a national stage with CBS televising the game and in front of 16,540 screaming fans in burnt orange. They dug deep and found the energy and togetherness because it was an enjoyable and resounding expression of who they are now as basketball players and as a team.

"It is fun," said senior Connor Lammert. "I think we have been getting better each game. We have had some games where we didn't play great for whatever reason, but I think we have been getting better progressively since the beginning of the season. We bounce back. I can speak for the seniors and myself -- it has been fun to be a part of it this year."