Two to Get Ready

Texas can still clinch a share of the Big 12 title and the top seed in next week's conference tournament with a pair of home wins in the last two regular season games, starting Tuesday against Nebraska. But what does coach Rick Barnes think about his team's status in the Big Dance following its recent 83-80 loss at lightly-regarded Texas Tech?

The setback snapped Texas' eight-game win streak, dropping the program four spots to No. 9 in both major polls released Monday. Texas trailed by 13 with 9:28 remaining Saturday in Lubbock before its comeback bid fell short, albeit against a team that had just lost by 44 points to Texas A&M. Overall, Texas is a laudable 24-5 on the season and, at 11-3 in league play, holds the tie-breaker against Kansas by virtue of its 72-69 win against the Jayhawks on February. Including Kansas, Texas owns wins against three teams ranked in this weeks Top 5.

But did Saturday's stinker cost Texas even the possibility of a No. 2 seed come Selection Sunday? As important, did it hurt the Horns chances of landing in the Houston Regional? (Conventional wisdom suggests that Texas would have to emerge as the top No. 2 seed to be bracketed in Horn-friendly Houston, given that the Final Four is slated for San Antonio)

"All everyone wanted to talk about last week was the No. 1 seed," Barnes said. "There's way too much basketball left to think about that. That's not where our focus is right now. Our focus is doing a better job, physically and mentally."

'Focus' is the operative word for Barnes. Whereas some teams tend to feel the pressure mount in the midst of win streaks on the cusp of Tournament play, it was probably the case that complacency set in for Texas. In short, Barnes believes Texas lacked the 'mental toughness' against Tech -- and even in stretches during the Feb. 25 win at Kansas State -- that it possessed in the midst of the eight-game win streak. Mental lapses reveal themselves in a variety of forms, Barnes continued, including failure to convert free throws, lane violations, failure to block-out, turnovers and needless fouls. There have been times during the past two games, Barnes added, that his team lacked a "sense of urgency."

"Championship teams don't beat themselves," Barnes said. "It' plain and simple. It's about doing the ordinary things well. When you give away points, when you turn the ball over, that's when you help the other team...For whatever reason, Texas Tech's mental and physical effort was better than ours. There's no secret to it. It's pretty simple. It's just not that complicated."

Texas threatened to push an early lead to double-digits Saturday before a controversial technical foul was whistled on sophomore G Justin Mason. Tech closed the opening period on an 11-1 run.

"We didn't lose that game in the last four or five minutes," Barnes concluded. "We lost that game in the first half. We weren't very good the last five minutes of the first half."

So, is there is silver lining to a three-point road loss to a team that is, in all probability, NIT-bound? If so, Barnes isn't buying it.

"The mental effort is key to every game," Barnes said. "We're not a young team anymore. We have to play like an experienced one."

Nebraska (17-10, 6-8 in Big 12) has won three of four games, including wins against Kansas State and Texas A&M when those programs were ranked. The Huskers appear to be NIT-bound but an upset in Austin, followed by winnable home game against cellar-dweller Colorado would put NU on the NCAA bubble. The Longhorns hold a 14-4 lead in the all-time series and are 8-1 against the Huskers in the Rick Barnes' era. A couple of recent contests in the series have come down to the wire -- the Horns managed to win a 62-61 nail-biter in Lincoln last year -- but Texas is 9-0 against Nebraska in Austin.

The Huskers have shot at least 50 percent from the floor in each of the last four games after not reaching that mark in any previous Big 12 contest all season. Credit much of the upswing to junior G Steve Harley, who is averaging 16.3 points and shooting 61 percent during the past four outings (prior to the current streak, he was averaging 7.7. ppg this season).

Senior C Aleks Meric (6-11) leads his team in scoring (16.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg). He is shotting 60 percent from the field and 80.7 percent from the FT line during the past 10 games. However, he is in the only Husker to average double-figures on the season.

Nebraska's calling card has been an improved defensive effort under head coach Doc Sadler. Only three opponents have topped the 80-point plateau during his two-year stint in Lincoln. The Huskers lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, limiting foes to 60.4 percent from the field. They are also second in the Big 12 in steals (8.52 per game).

"They'll be as hard to score against as anyone we've played," Barnes noted.

Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. (Central) and will be televised in the state of Texas by Fox Sports Southwest.

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