Typically poor free throw shooting probably cost UT the win. James Thomas hit just three of his six charity stripe attempts over the game's closing minutes and Fredie Williams also went just one of two, allowing the now 8-10 Wildcats to stay within a basket down the stretch.
With the Horns unable to pull away, K-State finally took advantage. With 23 seconds to play and the Horns up 70-68, KSU reserve Phineas Atchison drove the baseline, scored a bucket and drew a foul from Ford. From the line, Atchison completed the three-point play, giving the Wildcats the one point lead. Texas, looking to attack the gaps of the K-State zone on its final possession, instead passed the ball around the perimeter before Ford, with under four seconds to play, spun and shot from the free throw line. Brian Boddicker couldn't get his tip of the Ford miss to fall, sending the Horns back to Austin (as soon as the snow in Manhattan abates) with another disappointing loss.
Texas opened a seven-point lead with just under seven minutes to play in the first half, but the Wildcats outscored the Horns 13-4 to pull even at 31 at the break. UT missed all six of its three-point attempts in the first (and couldn't convert on six of 11 from the line) but Brandon Mouton hit four from beyond the arc in the second half on his way to 18 points. One of those threes gave Texas an eight-point lead, its largest of the night, a couple of minutes into the second period, but the Horns quickly squandered that advantage and the game remained a seesaw battle over the final 12 minutes. Despite his costly free throw misses, Thomas scored a team-high 20 points.
The Horns' 5-2 conference mark, while still good enough (temporarily) for second in the Big 12, is far worse than it appears given the weak schedule Texas has faced and particularly given its two losses to lightweights A&M and K-State.
UT takes on OU, also 5-2 in conference play but ranked among the nation's top 10 with a 16-3 overall record after its win over Okie State Wednesday night, at the Erwin Center Saturday afternoon, but the loss in Manhattan will be hard to shake. Not only will it send the Horns diving in the RPI (probably into the 30s, which is approaching NCAA bubble range), it will also adversely affects UT's chances of a top four finish in the league (and the resulting first-round bye in the Big 12 Tourney in Kansas City), a finish which would basically assure an NCAA berth.
This team can no longer take anything for granted, including an NCAA invite, because it is struggling to win against bad competition. Over the last four games, the Horns have not consistently played well on either end of the court, relying on a late-game run to beat mediocre Nebraska in the Erwin Center, falling to a bad A&M team in Austin, squeaking out a six-point win over Baylor in Waco, and now losing to Big 12 bottom dweller Kansas State. None of those four teams reside in the league's upper echelon, yet UT managed just two wins during that four game stretch.
And things get far, far more difficult from here on out. Following this Saturday's game with the Sooners, Texas closes the season with a road game vs. the Aggies (who have already proven capable of beating the Horns) and a home game with Colorado, then faces games with nationally No. 2-ranked Kansas in Austin, No. 22 Missouri in Columbia, No. 9 Oklahoma State in Austin, No. 6 Oklahoma in Norman, No. 20 Tech in Austin and Iowa State in always-tough Ames. Not a single one of those games looks like a safe Longhorn win. Matter of fact, at least half of them look to be UT losses with the current level of this team's play.
The Horns (14-6 overall) have proven that even without Chris Owens they are capable of playing very good basketball. Unfortunately, they have also clearly demonstrated over the last four games that they can play quite poorly as well and lose to any team on the schedule.
It's not to late to reverse this midseason slide, though, and what better time than Saturday vs. the Sooners? To do so, this Texas team needs to leave its slump back on the snowy central plains of Kansas.