USA Today

TEXAS TAKES DOWN BAYLOR 67-59 IN WACO

There's no greater example of the new-and-improved Texas Longhorns under first-year coach Shaka Smart than big man Prince Ibeh, who came up huge again - this time in a 67-59 victory at Baylor on Big Monday.

For three years at Texas, Ibeh was seen as a defensive specialist and offensive liability. But under the zen psychology of Shaka Smart, Ibeh has morphed into the player he's always dreamed of becoming over the last couple weeks.

Coming off back-to-back double-doubles in home victories over TCU and Vanderbilt, Texas was now relying on Ibeh to come up big again - on the road in Waco - against Baylor big man Rico Gathers, the Big 12's well-muscled leading rebounder.

And Ibeh did - scoring 9 points with 6 rebounds and 5 blocks. But numbers alone don't tell the story.

Most of Ibeh's 9 points (on 4-of-5 shooting) came down the stretch on designed plays against a foul-plagued Gathers.

Gathers became so frustrated by Ibeh's in-your-face play that Gathers threw a cheap-shot shoulder into Ibeh's back that sent Ibeh to the floor with 16:48 left.

The play resulted in a foul on Gathers and then double technicals on Isaiah Taylor and Gathers after Taylor got in Gathers' face to let him hear about it.

But Taylor would get the last laugh when he lobbed a pass for an alley-oop attempt to Kerwin Roach and lured Gathers into his fifth foul with 1:27 left and UT clinging to a 2-point lead.

Texas senior Connor Lammert, who used to come up small when it mattered most, is now coming up big - over and over again. Lammert hit 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the second half and finished with a team-leading 15 points as the Longhorns hit 8 of 17 from beyond the arc (47 percent) against Baylor's 2-3 zone.

The Longhorns' defense - excellent all night - contributed to Baylor missing its last six shots of the game.

Taylor and Javan Felix came up with big rebounds and hit big free throws down the stretch to give Texas its sixth win in its last seven games and improve to 15-7 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12.

Baylor (17-5, 6-3) led 11-10 with 15:10 left in the first half - and never led again.

Every time Baylor threatened, Texas had an answer, which is becoming a regular theme for these revitalized Longhorns under Shaka Smart, whose handling of this team's psyche has been masterful as this season has progressed.

A Texas team that tended to have players try to do things on their own when games got tight earlier this season was the picture of unselfishness on Big Monday. Texas had 21 assists on 21 made baskets.

When senior center Cam Ridley went down with a fractured left foot right before conference play began while averaging a double-double, no one thought Ibeh could fill Ridley's void alone.

Ibeh has admitted he used to blame everyone else for his lack of playing time and lack of confidence, which contributed to his lack of offense, poor FT shooting and a tendency to commit bad fouls. Ibeh said it was Smart who has gotten him to snap out of it and focus on the possible while holding himself accountable for his success or failure.

On Monday, we saw Ibeh with lefty low-post moves over his right shoulder against Gathers. Ibeh looks like a completely new player. Ibeh is also 11 of 14 from the FT line the last three games after going 2 of 18 from the FT line the first 18 games.

Smart said the key to Ibeh's improvement is simply "having fun playing the game."

We are watching some serious coaching taking place. Shaka talks about players "staying connected" and "teamsmanship." It's all sinking in right now in impressive, fun-to-watch fashion. 

NEXT UP: ... 1 pm CT Saturday at home vs Texas Tech before hitting the road next week at Oklahoma on Big Monday and at Iowa State a week from Saturday.


Horns Digest Top Stories