Without the team’s best frontcourt player, the Texas Longhorns will face the Iowa State Cyclones in Ames on Saturday — junior forward Jericho Sims is out indefinitely after battling through a back injury for months.
Junior guard Jase Febres (knee) and sophomore forward Gerald Liddell (back) will also miss the game, but the medical staff is hopeful that freshman forward Kai Jones can return from the ankle injury that he suffered last Saturday.
So Texas will be without at least three players against Iowa State.
“Obviously our team’s a little bit short-handed right now, but when you get to this point in the season it’s got to be about guys stepping forward and your team coming together around the guys that are healthy and playing your best basketball with that group and it might mean playing a little bit differently, it might mean changing certain things depending on who’s out there, who’s not out there,” head coach Shaka Smart said on Thursday. “But we certainly have the guys that can come together, so excited about what we do on Saturday.”
The Cyclones took a recent injury hit, too, as sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton’s career at Iowa State is likely over after he fractured his left wrist last Saturday. One of the few bright spots in a 10-14 season for head coach Steve Prohm’s team, Haliburton is the leading scorer for the Clones at 15.2 points per game, in addition to leading the team in rebounds per game (5.9), assists per game (6.5) and steals per game (2.5). He’s also the leading three-point shooter (41.9 percent). In other words, Haliburton served as the catalyst in virtually every area of the game.
The loss of Haliburton means more pressure on transfer guard Rasir Bolton, who is averaging 14.9 points per game and 2.9 assists per game, and bigger roles for guards Prentiss Nixon (8.2 points per game) and Terence Lewis (6.4 points per game). Lewis in particular stepped up in the blowout loss to Oklahoma, scoring 17 points, his career high.
“He’s had some games earlier this year where he didn’t play much at all, but he’s probably the biggest beneficiary of anybody in terms of playing time and minutes and shot attempts and opportunities,” Smart said.
In the previous game between the two teams — two weeks ago in Austin — the Longhorns needed an 11-0 run in the final 2:29 to come back from a four-point deficit for a four-point win. Iowa State led by as many as eight points in the second half, but Texas sophomore guard Courtney Ramey scored eight of 10 points during the decisive stretch, including two three-pointers.
Ramey has been up and down for the Horns during his second season. With the all the injuries, however, Texas needs Ramey to play more consistently.
“He’s a huge key,” Smart said. “He’s a guy that I think we all know is capable of playing well, but he’s been up and down at times this year. He’s a guy that’s very hard on himself gets upset with himself when he doesn’t do certain things, but the last thing we want that to create is any type of lack of aggressiveness. Our message to him of late has been if you’re going to make a mistake, make an aggressive mistake, be the guy that’s making the more violent play than the opponent.
Earlier in the conference season, Ramey was playing that way, leading Smart to say that the coaches want him to replicate those performances rather than the recent disappearing acts that include six or fewer points in five of the last seven games.
The game tips off at 1 p.m. Central on ESPN2. KenPom.com gives Texas a 41 percent win probability with a projected margin of 70-67 in favor of Iowa State.