Probably not, especially if Perry Jones does not play for Baylor, as rumored. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The Longhorns gutted one out Saturday night in Waco, coming from nine down in the second half and taking the lead for good on Jordan Hamilton's 3-pointer with 5:21 to go. For a team that seemed to be followed by a black cloud for about 10 days, some terrific things happened in winnin' time. Hamilton did make a couple of important threes in the second half. Gary Johnson hit the most important jumper he'd made since Lawrence. Alexis Wangmene hit the boards, and hit four clutch free throws. In fact, Texas made eight in a row from the line, after hitting only eight of 19 to that point. And Joseph weaved through the Baylor zone to lay in a vital basket with less than 90 seconds left.
And Rick Barnes made one of his most important defensive adjustments of the season, putting Gary Johnson on Lacedarius Dunn after it appeared that Dunn was going to earn an NBA signing bonus by posting up Cory Joseph. Barnes first had gone to Jordan Hamilton on Dunn in a big lineup that also included Tristan Thompson, Matt Hill and Johnson, but Hamilton flat out forgot to cover him on one sequence in the first half, causing him to get yanked. Barnes even appeared to try a box-and-one on another trip, and then quickly stopped before anyone noticed and yanked his coaching man card.
Bottom line was that Johnson appeared to relish the chance to guard Dunn, and he took him out of his game in the second half, save for a couple of nasty screens – one by Perry Jones and one by J'Covan Brown (yeah, really... they ran into each other).
Meanwhile, Scott Drew went beyond his normally sideline-manic self as the fouls piled up against the Bears in the second half. He did convince the refs to tighten up a 8-1 UT foul edge to 9-7, but probably missed valuable opportunities to put the Horns on the line when it looked like they'd never make a free throw again.
But even Thompson did OK at the line, making five of nine, and he continued steady, visible improvement as a post presence and on the boards, putting up 19 and 13. Note to NBA scouts: You don't want him on that (free-throw) line. You don't need him on that line.
Yet, as good as the end-game probably made everyone connected with the UT program feel much better – imagine what they'd be going through this week had they lost – the fact is that this game wasn't a whole lot different than what has been happening the last six weeks of the season. This time, the good half (actually, the good 16 minutes) came in the second half, rather than the first. They shot 41 percent, for the game (including only 2 of 15 BTA), and gave up 48. It turned out vital that they pounded the Baylor zone for 23 offensive rebounds (outrebounding BU by one on that end).
So, the result is a mixed bag. Until they start shooting it better, nobody can count on this team to do what they had been doing. But if they do start shooting better, the lane should open up and the EE won't look like nearly the obstacle course that it did a week ago. Funny thing about the offense, I heard former NBAer and former ESPN analyst Jon Sundvold suggest this week that the reason Texas has been stagnating is that there may have been a suggestion that they make "one more pass" to get a good shot, and everybody might be taking that to heart. (But Sundvold suggested that the idea should be to have shooters shoot. Simple and yet so difficult.) And there's always the question of whether Barnes is still driving them in practice. Doesn't seem possible, but there didn't seem to be a lot of spring in anyone’s steps until the very end.
Then there's the rumor of Hamilton's hip injury. It seemed to be evident on one first-half play close to the basket when he got no lift, and then in the second half when he notably jogged back on defense when the ball moved faster. But he seemed to pick up the pace when shots began to fall, and no less than Gary Johnson insisted post-game that Hamilton was not hurt. Guess we'll see for sure beginning Thursday.
As for the outlook this weekend, I'm on record as approving a two-and-out, but given the failure of Barnes teams to do this when it figured to benefit them greatly ('07 and '08), I'm expecting the worst. That would be wins Thursday and Friday, and a Kansas State-like good half, followed by hitting bottom again early Saturday night.
They would be going for a third win over either Baylor or Oklahoma on Thursday. Baylor figured to have the edge until word leaked that Perry Jones III may have been suspended by the NCAA for accepting illegal benefits. Considering the Bears didn't seem to throw the ball enough to Jones to make him important to the offense, maybe it won't be that big a deal. However, it's still a game Texas should win.
Worst case for Friday probably would be a Missouri upset of Texas A&M. The Ags are a slightly shorter and slower version of Texas, as we saw in Texas's twin 20-point blowouts, which also coincided with the Horns' best ball of the season. Missouri's MO is to press and run, although it hasn't really done it like Mike Anderson probably would prefer. But if they do, that's 40 more hard minutes than Texas needs, especially if it wins.
While those of us who know that the Horns are not that deep really have doubts they can beat Kansas on Saturday, should it come to that (and perhaps not KSU, either, since we have seen that movie already), but I've seen some brackets from non-Texan media that think not only will Texas get to the final, but that they might go two-up on Kansas. If they do, the hopes for a No. 1 seed that appeared to die last week at least theoretically could be revived, depending on how things go in other tournaments. They'd almost certainly get a two based on that performance, but I'm not sure it matters – not only are the twos and threes pretty much interchangeable, so are the sixes and sevens.