In the first major conference matchup at the Moody Center, the No. 10 Texas Longhorns face off against the No. 17 TCU Horned Frogs trying to secure the program’s first Big 12 win at the new arena on Wednesday evening.
Both teams enter the game at 13-2 and 2-1 in conference play, but the real comparisons stop there following last week’s with-cause termination of Texas head coach Chris Beard, leaving acting head coach Rodney Terry as the interim for the remainder of the season. Led by veterans like forward Timmy Allen and guards Marcus Carr and Brock Cunningham, the Longhorns responded to Beard’s firing with a 56-46 win against the Cowboys in Stillwater on Saturday and currently boast a 6-1 record under Terry, the longtime Texas assistant under Rick Barnes.
With Beard’s suspension and subsequent termination, Terry has been emphasizing the need to be present.
“We talk all the time about living where your feet are, living in the moment, meaning enjoy this day, win this day — tomorrow is not promised to us, enjoy this day, and that’s kind of my approach on life,” Terry said.
Following last week’s 116-103 loss to Kansas State in Austin, Texas re-focused on its defensive intensity in practice on Thursday. With a message of “we’re all in this together,” Terry was a participant, taking a charge and banging up his ribs while diving on the floor in a loose-ball drill.
“We’ve got to be a gritty team,” Terry said on Monday. “We’ve got to be first to the floor.”
The approach worked, as Texas held Oklahoma State to 46 points on 30.4-percent shooting (14-46), including 6-of-21 (.286) from three-point range, and forced 18 turnovers in Saturday’s win. The Longhorns did not allow a made field goal over the game’s final 8:20.
As Terry told the players last week, “We’re never gonna have anything harder than what you have to go through in practice. Practice are made to be hard to put you in uncomfortable positions.”
For the players, the practice intensity was something they expected.
“We kind of knew, yeah, we probably weren’t going to touch a ball [Thursday] unless we were stealing it or rebounding it on defense, but, no, it was a great practice for us,” Carr said. “We definitely got better, worked on what we needed to work on, and I feel like we carried that into Ok[lahoma] State and that’s why we had the performance that we did.”
In November, the team worked on its identity. In December, it was about the details. Now, with conference play beginning, it’s about the grind of playing a double round robin schedule that produces a deep league-wide familiarity.
“We’re familiar with TCU, TCU is very familiar with us,” Terry said. “They have a lot of guys back from last year, we have a lot of guys back from last year, so it’s gonna be about the grind, who embraces the grind of every day trying to get better, knowing every night that compete it’s gonna be a possession game, you’ve got to sit down and get stops, but also embrace it and enjoy it, it’s a fun time of year.”
After allowing a career-high 36 points to Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell last week, Texas will have to slow down Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Mike Miles Jr. on Wednesday, who is second in the conference in scoring at 19.8 points per game. As a team, the Horned Frogs have a similar style as the Longhorns — they want defense to fuel their offense in transition.
“They’re a team that plays extremely fast in transition,” Terry said. “They force a lot of turnovers — I think they’re averaging like 17 turnovers — you have to be strong with the ball and take care of the basketball. They do a great job of really converting those turnovers into baskets. Put a lot of pressure at the basket in terms of being physical, the mindset that they’re an elite-level offensive rebounding team.”
Texas enters Wednesday’s game with a 7-1 record against TCU over the last eight games and an 18-2 record against the Horned Frogs in Austin in the last 20 meetings.
How to watch
Time: 8 p.m. Central
Radio: The Longhorns IMG Radio Network
Odds: Texas is a 6.5-point favorite, according to DraftKings.