Hoops: No. 4 Horns Hope Bears Aren't Bad News

All of that pre-season traveling for the No. 4 Texas men’s basketball team was intended for times such as these: Big 12 road games.

The Longhorns take their lofty status on the Interstate for the first time this conference season as Rick Barnes' bunch tips off against Baylor, 8 p.m., Wednesday, in a regionally televised contest (ESPN+). A win would raise Texas’ mark to 11-2 and put them in a three-way tie atop the league standings with Kansas and Oklahoma State.

The 8-3 Bears, a much-improved squad under third-year coach Dave Bliss, is led by a trio of talented sophomores.

F Lawrence Roberts is a hoss (6-9, 230) and leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.1). He was the team’s scoring leader as a freshman (16.8 ppg) and registered a career high 30 points in the 102-78 loss at Texas last season. He set the Big 12 freshman scoring record with 498 points last season.

Point guard John Lucas III (5-11, 155) is the team’s second leading scorer (14.5 ppg) and assist-leader (4.5 apg). The son of Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Lucas Jr. started 27 games as a freshman and was a consensus member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team.

However, Barnes is particularly weary of 6-3 guard Kenny Taylor, who has been simply unconscious from beyond the arch, nailing 40.7 percent of his three-pointers and averaging 13.8 ppg.

"He is such a great shooter," Barnes said. "I have seen him get on rolls where the basket must look like an ocean to him. He can start knocking down a lot of shots and that starts stretching you out defensively. He’s really improved from a year ago. He’s really got his confidence and he’s playing good basketball right now."

Already, Bliss is working the officials via an underhanded compliment to Texas. Earlier this week, the tongue-in-cheek Bliss said he hopes his team can reach Texas’ level of reputation so that his program can get the kind of officiating calls that Texas gets. Barnes, of course, shrugged off the remark.

"I know how he feels because I’ve been there before when you wonder sometimes (about officiating)," Barnes said. "Even in some of the games we’ve won, you wonder."

Baylor is one of those teams that you can slap around on your home court but can break your heart when you travel to their den. Last season, Texas eked out a narrow 69-63 win in Waco in front of the largest crowd in the 14-year history of the Ferrell Center (10,486). Two weeks later, the Bruins upset No. 22 (and eventual NCAA Elite Eight) Missouri. The previous year, Baylor upended both Kansas and Iowa State in Bliss’ inaugural campaign.

But that’s part of the reason why Barnes wants his team road-tested now that they are hitting the rugged Big 12 road. Texas opened the regular season by playing five of its first seven games on the road, including stops in New York City, Washington D.C. and Arizona.

"We‘ve been east and we‘ve been west," Barnes said. "I feel like we’ve seen the world."

Now, all Barnes wants to see is Texas’ first Big 12 road win of the young season.

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