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No. 15 Texas travels to No. 16 Oklahoma for Red River rivalry game

Thursday’s contest marks the third straight rivalry game for the Sooners in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

For the third game of the regular-season ending road trip for the No. 15 Texas Longhorns, head coach Shaka Smart and his team travel north of the Red River to face off against the No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners in Norman at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN.

The Sooners enter the game the same way that the Red Raiders did on Saturday — facing a three-game losing streak. For Texas Tech, that produced a level of desperation that Texas wasn’t able to match for important stretches of the game, particularly the start of the second half as the Horns missed their first 11 shots from the field.

The question for Oklahoma is whether the Sooners have much left in the tank physically and emotionally. The losing streak started with a bad loss to a Kansas State team that only has three Big 12 wins this season and continued with back-to-back Bedlam games against Oklahoma State. Saturday’s defeat included an overtime period.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger attempting to steady his reeling Sooners stands in contrast to the storylines heading into the late January loss in Austin. Smart missed that game after testing positive for COVID-19, so associate head coach KT Turner handled the coaching with a roster of eight available scholarship players — senior forward Jericho Sims, junior guard Courtney Ramey, and redshirt sophomore guard Brock Cunningham all sat out.

In the midst of all the COVID-19 issues, the Longhorns struggled shooting from beyond the arc, hitting only 6-of-24 attempts, including an 0-for-7 day from redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones.

Thanks to some choppy officiating, Texas was called for 29 fouls versus 20 whistles against Oklahoma, leading to a 34-to-19 disparity in free-throw attempts and three players fouling out for the Longhorns.

Some of the foul trouble for Texas was a result of Oklahoma ruthlessly taking advantage of mismatches inside when guards switched onto bigs. So Smart may opt to switch fewer screens to limit those easy baskets and to keep his guards on the court. Sims is another player that Smart needs to play strong defense without fouling — the senior starter only played 11 minutes against Iowa State on Tuesday and his absence had a significant impact defensively.

The poor play of Royce Hamm Jr. replacing Sims was part of the problem. The senior forward struggled to hedge properly on staggered screens, committed three fouls in six minutes, missed both of his shots, and turned the ball over once.

Andrew Jones is still struggling, too — he’s only reached double figures in one of the last four games and is currently in the midst of a 4-for-29 stretch from beyond the arc (13.8 percent). In two of those games, West Virginia and Iowa State, Jones didn’t attempt a single free throw.

Getting Jones going again is a major priority for Smart, who also wants to his other two lead guards, Ramey and senior Matt Coleman, to limit their turnovers following 19 total turnovers against the Cyclones, including seven by Coleman and Ramey.

If Jones continues to miss from beyond the arc, contributions from senior guard Jase Febres could loom large. The first game against Oklahoma marked only the second appearance for Febres in his return from microfracture surgery and his shot wasn’t falling — Febres was 1-of-5 shooting from three — but he’s now coming off his best shooting performance of the season with three makes on four three-point attempts against Iowa State.

“Now that I’m out here, I mean, we’re getting back connected, we’re getting back locked in for tournament time, we’re gonna be ready,” Febres said on Tuesday.