And while the Longhorns swept the Mountaineers this season, leading to two very important wins, it was Texas's performance in the first game, in Morgantown, that put the Longhorns back on track, according to Texas coach Rick Barnes.
West Virginia was the turning point, Barnes said, that put the Longhorns back into the mix as an NCAA Tournament team. The young 'Horns lost their intensity and focus over the Christmas break, which led to an 0-2 start in conference play that nearly became 0-3 before a late comeback against Texas Tech.
That set up a big road contest at West Virginia.
"At West Virginia, the night before the game at half-court, I called some guys out," Barnes said. "I was at a point where I'm getting ready to explode. They got the message. I say call out. It wasn't like a yelling and screaming. It was just talking. This is the way that it is."
Texas responded, winning the game as part of a seven-game winning streak that put the Longhorns back on track as an NCAA Tournament team.
* Playing West Virginia also means taking on All-Big 12 guard Juwan Staten, one of the league's most gifted offensive players. I asked Texas defensive stopper Demarcus Holland what makes Staten so tough to defend.
"He's so good in transition," Holland said. "That's really where (defending him) starts. You have to pick up early and stop the ball. Then, he's really good off the bounce and at getting into the lane. You don't want him to get there because he can score and he's really good at setting up his teammates for open looks."
While Holland has had a stellar season, making the league's All-Defense team, Barnes said the job of handling Staten would never fall to just one player. Instead, Texas will try to deal with Staten not only by changing the player defending him, but also with rotations and trying to cut off his lanes.
* People often ask about this team's confidence, and I really don't think it could be any higher. This is a very loose team: in short, they think they're good and they don't really fear anybody or any situation. Some of my interviews and talks across the locker room turned up conversations on UNO card games the team played last night and who was or wasn't good at NBA2K. Keep in mind, those came from questions about other things.
My point? A lot of people expect this team to be afraid of the moment because of their youth. But I think in part because of their youth, they don't know that they *should* have any fear.
* In injury/illness news, Texas guard Damarcus Croaker didn't practice Wednesday, though he did make the trip. Per Texas, he was back at the hotel, trying to overcome a stomach illness. Jonathan Holmes, on the other hand, looked great at the practice as he works to overcome a banged up knee. He was mobile, smooth and didn't show any outward signs of injury throughout the session.
* Barnes and Co. made full use of the short practice session, moving crisply from one drill to another and preaching tempo throughout. On one end of the court, the guards worked on weaves and shooting drills, while the bigs worked on the other end on their post-ups.
From there, the Longhorns went into five-on-five action, first working on halfcourt offense and then moving to full-court drills that had Texas working on the press and working against the press to generate quick shot attempts.
The Longhorns don't play until late on Thursday, so Barnes said they'd go through a walk-through at UMKC earlier in the day to keep the players' legs fresh.