Texas has accomplished a lot since Rick Barnes took over in 1998, but it’s never won the Big 12 tournament.
The sixth-ranked Longhorns begin their push for their first Big 12 tourney title when they meet Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Texas (26-5) has lost the last two finals of this event to Kansas, and the teams could be in line for another meeting. Both squads shared the regular-season crown, although the Longhorns are the top seed by virtue of their 72-69 win over the Jayhawks on Feb. 11.
“I want them to feel good about it, but the time to celebrate is when it’s all said and done,” said Barnes about sharing the title. “We’ve still got work to do.”
Texas also lost in the final in 2001 and 2004, but went to Barnes’ first Final Four in between in 2003. The coach has guided the Longhorns to a school-record 26 regular-season wins this season, and was named Big 12 coach of the year, although he was quick to deflect that honor.
“The credit goes to our players,” Barnes said. “They’ve put in the time and do what it takes to be successful.”
The success wasn’t necessarily expected after Texas lost national player of the year Kevin Durant to the NBA. The Longhorns, however, had the rest of their starters back, although they have been using basically a six-man rotation down the stretch due to their lack of depth.
“The last three games have been pretty hard games to play because we’ve played against teams that have mostly perimeter guys out there,” Barnes said. “So we haven’t been able to use our big guys because of some matchups.”
Barnes will face that same problem since the Longhorns used a short bench in the regular-season finale, a 62-57 win over Oklahoma State (17-14) on Sunday. D.J. Augustin scored 20 points and Damion James added 12 for the Longhorns, whose reserves played a total of 22 minutes.
Augustin has been the catalyst for both of Texas’ wins over Oklahoma State this season. The sophomore guard scored 26 points in a 63-61 road win over the Cowboys on Jan. 21.
Oklahoma State has won six of its last eight games, and Texas figures the third meeting between the teams will be another challenge.
“You just look at their team in general, they just really got aggressive, they’re driving the ball,” Barnes said. “That turnaround is really impressive.”
The Cowboys bounced back from the loss to Texas by advancing with a 76-72 first-round win over Texas Tech on Thursday. Freshman James Anderson scored 18 points and made two clinching free throws with 4 seconds to go.
The Cowboys overcame a shaky defensive performance in which they allowed the Red Raiders to shoot 54.7 percent - the second-worst mark allowed by Oklahoma State this season. They allowed Texas to shoot just 36.1 percent in the first two meetings this season.
“We’ve played them well both times,” said Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton about playing Texas. “They’ve just made a few more plays than us at the end of the game.”
This is the second straight year these teams are meeting in the Big 12 tournament. Texas won 69-64 in last season’s semifinals.