That's what Texas head coach Rick Barnes had to say this week about his team, which lost Kevin Durant to the NBA. It's a team that lost the Kevin Durant who averaged 25 and 11, the Kevin Durant who swept all seven player of the year awards, the Kevin Durant who dropped over 30 on Kansas...twice. But Barnes said that his team was unpolished and undisciplined at the start of last season.
"Last year's team really improved and a lot of that had to do with how much Kevin Durant got better," said Barnes. "Kevin's long gone, so the question will be how much this team will get better. But we're better."
Barnes credits the Horns' hot start to significant improvement on the defensive end over last season. The Longhorns took on Tennessee in 2006 and came away with a 111-105 overtime loss in what was a less than stellar defensive performance. This season, the Volunteers looked to be even better, ranked No. 7 in the country thanks to the hot shooting of guard Chris Lofton.
But the Durant-less Longhorns smoked the Vols, 97-78, and were in complete control the entire game. Texas point guard D.J. Augustin said that communication is key to playing solid defense and it's an aspect of the game that the Horns have improved.
"This year I think we're communicating way better than last year," said Augustin. "Guys are stepping up and they're playing really well now."
Another reason for the Longhorns' strong start is the breakout play of Connor Atchley. Last season, the Texas center averaged only 3.9 points and 3.9 boards, but the 6-foot-10 junior dropped 22 points and 11 rebounds on Tennessee. Atchley has been one of a number of players on the team who have stepped up in Durant's absence, but the center told Inside Texas that great players go through the program every year and the team just keeps plugging away.
"Last year, we lost LaMarcus (Aldridge), P.J. (Tucker) and Daniel (Gibson)," said Atchley. "I think every year there are great guys here and everybody knows their role and we've got a great coaching staff that gets us ready. Every year, whether we lose someone or gain someone, we're going to put our foot in the door to make a run."
Before the season, Rick Barnes repeatedly stated that Atchley was "a better player than he thinks he is." Well, how good does he think he is now?
"I think I'm a good player, always, but it's just making shots and it's about being consistent, not just spurts of it," said Atchley. "No more three rebound games for me."
Augustin agreed and said he's seen a significant change in the big man's style of play.
"You can tell by how he's shooting," said Augustin. "Last year he would catch and hesitate. This year he's catching it in stride and in rhythm and shooting the ball."
Because of the win over Tennessee in the final of the Legends Classic, Texas jumped up to No. 8 in both the Coaches and AP polls, but a taller task may be ahead. After a home game against Texas Southern on Wednesday night (7 p.m. tip-off at the Erwin Center), the Horns head to Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins, who are now ranked No. 1 in the Coaches Poll and No. 2 in the AP, just three votes behind North Carolina. Texas and UCLA play on Sunday at 7 p.m. FSN will broadcast the game.