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January 24, 2014

Longhorns looking for three-in-a-row...

Can they make it three-in-a-row over ranked foes?

The Longhorns (15-4, 4-2) travel up I-35 to face No. 24 Baylor (13-5, 1-4) this weekend, and they'll look to keep their surprising roll through the Big 12 in order. Meanwhile, the Bears have lost three in a row (at Texas Tech, Oklahoma, at Kansas) and are reeling.

Expect the Longhorns to see a lot of zone defensively from Baylor, a team that has some size down low and length and athleticism all over the place.

"So far we went over them a little bit," Demarcus Holland said Friday about Baylor. "I just know they like to play a lot of zone and they are very active in the zone. I know they have two big men that are very good at rebounding the ball and finishing around the rim. Getting early post entries and stuff like that is important for us on the offensive end and taking care of the ball."

Working the ball into the big men is something that Texas wants to do, and has been inconsistent at this year, especially against the zone.

"You just have to be patient, and you work in straight lines to the basket," stated Holland about working the ball into the paint against a zone. "You don't go horizontal or side-to-side because that's what the defense wants you to do so they can play the passing lanes. You ball-fake and with the post… we just have to trust them to catch it when we throw it in there."

It starts with the point guard on offense, and when Isaiah Taylor is really pushing the pace, aggressively penetrating, taking care of the ball, and getting his team into the offense, the Longhorns are at their best. And when the ball movement is stagnant against the zone, like it has been at times this year, Texas is definitely not at its best.

"I think earlier in the year we had trouble with the zone, but as the season has progressed teams have zoned us and we've gotten a lot better at that - penetrating the gaps, getting it to the big man whether that is the block or the short-corner, guards cutting to the late, getting people open shots," the freshman said. "I think we can do a pretty good job of that."

Taylor has to remain aggressive against a zone, and Texas will want to really push the ball like it always wants to.

"Yeah," responded Taylor when asked about needing to have the mindset to be aggressive against a zone defense. "Since they will be in a zone we're just looking to push the ball up the court before they can get the zone set up. We don't want to have to run any offense if we don't have to. If we can get our shot within 10 seconds of the shot clock, that's what we want to do."

Rick Barnes isn't too worried about facing a lot of zone because Texas has faced a lot of it throughout the season. Texas will set out to run, not turn it over, and keep from fouling, which are things that have really fueled their recent, impressive winning streak in Big 12 play.

"We've seen it," Texas' head coach said about the defense. "Baylor isn't going to throw anything at us we haven't seen. We want to establish the tempo we want to play with. We don't want to get slowed down too much. We want to continue the trend of we've been playing with here lately - taking care of the basketball, being aggressive but not turning the ball over and trying to keep people off the foul line."

Are the Longhorns still reflecting on their thrilling, buzzer-beating win over Kansas State? Not exactly. Under the leadership of Holland and Jonathan Holmes, this Texas team doesn't get too high or too low.

"Nothing's changed," said Holland about the team's mentality right now. "We still do the same thing game in and game out. Coach still stresses the same things… he knows we've been improving but he knows we're not in a position to be satisfied by any means. We know we have a long way to go."

Texas does have a long way to go, but it has already come a long way after last year's disaster of a season. Already, the Longhorns have matched their 2012-2013 season output in wins with 15, and Barnes credits his players for the dramatic turnaround.

"The players… it's always been a players game," Barnes said. "I haven't thought about it (last year). I think I'm a person that lets thinks go quick and looks forward to moving on. These guys have worked and they deserve what's happened to them. I want them to want a whole lot more than 15 games. Everything that has happened to this team so far is because of their effort, their intensity, the chemistry has a lot to do with it. It's not going to get any easier so we have to keep going."


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