Head coach Chris Beard and the No. 21 Texas Longhorns (21-8, 10-6 Big 12) look to send out the Erwin Center in style with the program’s 550th win in the 45-year-old arena when they face off against the No. 3 Baylor Bears (24-5, 12-4 Big 12) on Monday evening in front of a sellout crowd, the final home game there before the Moody Center opens for basketball this fall.
Both teams enter the game 3-1 since the two teams met in Waco on Feb. 12, an 80-63 demolition by the Bears that left Beard questioning his team’s toughness. Since then, they’ve responded, winning a rivalry game in overtime against Oklahoma, falling short in a late comeback against Texas Tech, and then overcoming double-digit second-half deficits against TCU and West Virginia.
“I think that coach Beard is shifting the culture here,” Texas senior guard Jase Febres said after scoring a season-high 14 points against West Virginia on Saturday. “Getting a lot more tough — that’s been his biggest thing with us is to question our toughness.”
Against the Mountaineers, senior forward Timmy Allen was aggressive getting to the basket, earning 16 free throws and scoring 26 points. Senior guard Marcus Carr stepped up in the second half, hitting all four of his shots and scoring 11 of his 15 points.
“A lot of teams have been calling us out for our physicality and that’s the only question on us — we’ve got all the talent, we’ve got all the skill, we’ve got guys stepping up,” Allen said on Saturday. “Physicality is our only question mark. We know that, the inside and outside world says that. So we’re trying to turn the corner.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot better these two past games just hitting people. They’re letting us play a little bit. You’ve got to adjust, play hard, and play strong. So that’s a big focus.”
Baylor will certainly bring that element of toughness, albeit without forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who suffered a significant knee injury in the first game against Texas, and a high level of skill. The No. 8-ranked offense in Kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric managed 50-percent shooting against the Longhorns in Waco and the No. 13-ranked defense held Texas to 32.8-percent shooting with seven blocked shots.
The frontcourt for the Horns will have to play much better on Monday for Texas to have a chance — Allen dealt with foul trouble and only managed eight points and senior forward Christian Bishop fouled out in 16 minutes. With junior forward Tre Mitchell still on an indefinite personal leave of absence from the program, the Longhorns simply don’t have the depth to survive Allen and Bishop battling foul trouble unless junior forward Dylan Disu manages to play effective minutes for the first time in almost two months.
There is one certainty as Texas attempts to secure a resume-building win with the Big 12 Tournament looming — the tougher, more physical team will leave the Erwin Center as the winning team on Monday.
“We’re just trying to continue to stay the course as we get into March,” Allen said. “A tougher team that takes care of the ball is always going to win in March, and we know that. So we’re trying to try and step up here down the stretch.”
How to Watch:
Time: 8:00 p.m. Central
Radio: Texassports.com affiliates
Odds: The Bears are 1.5-point favorites over the Longhorns, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.