Texas’ last two games have been easy victories, but that trend is likely to change in a big way over the next three weeks.
The No. 22 Longhorns begin a difficult five-game stretch when they face surging North Carolina in Greensboro on Saturday.
Texas (8-2) has mostly cruised to its victories, with its eight wins coming by an average of 23.0 points.
Texas’ schedule is about to get a lot tougher.
After facing North Carolina (7-3), the Longhorns will visit 14th-ranked Michigan State on Wednesday. Coppin State, Arkansas and No. 4 Connecticut round out Texas’ schedule before it begins Big 12 play Jan. 11.
“We’re a national program and we’re going to play a national schedule,” coach Rick Barnes said. “Our whole schedule is set up to try to help us be the best team we can be. We want to be the best team we can be at the end of the year.”
Another big effort from Gary Johnson could get this grueling stretch off to a strong start.
The senior forward got his second double-double of the season against the Ospreys, scoring 17 points with a season-high 12 rebounds. That performance came after he scored 14 points with nine boards last Saturday.
Johnson, second on the team with 11.7 points per game and the leader with 8.0 rebounds, had been averaging 7.6 points over the previous five games and feels the next two will be major tests.
“I want to see how we’re going to come together as a team against adversity,” Johnson said. “Being on the road is going to be tough for us and especially tough on the young guys.”
While Johnson is surging, Jordan Hamilton is trying to bounce back from perhaps his worst performance of the season. The sophomore swingman leads the Longhorns with an average of 18.9 points, but scored a season-low nine points while shooting 4 of 13 on Tuesday.
Hamilton was held to five points while connecting on 2 of 10 field goals in a 103-90 win over then-No. 10 North Carolina on Dec. 19, 2009. But J’Covan Brown had 21 points - the second-highest total in his career - off the bench at Cowboys Stadium to help Texas improve to 3-2 in the all-time series.
A win could be just what North Carolina needs to return to the Top 25 after starting the season eighth before consecutive losses dropped it out of the poll within three weeks.
The Tar Heels are looking to extend their season-high winning streak to four after beating Long Beach State 96-91 last Saturday.
Re-establishing its strong defensive play will be key after North Carolina gave up a season high in points to the 49ers. The Tar Heels held four of their previous five opponents under 39.0 percent shooting, but Long Beach State shot 50.7 percent.
“I was disappointed in our defense,” coach Roy Williams said. “We’ve been living off our defense for the last four or five games and I think if you watch the game, or games, and you know anything about basketball you would agree with that.”
Freshman and preseason All-American Harrison Barnes hopes to build on his first career double-double. He matched a season high with 19 points and added 10 rebounds against Long Beach State.
Tyler Zeller, though, seeks a better effort after making 3 of 10 shots for 10 points with seven rebounds last weekend. The junior forward totaled 45 points and 19 boards in the two games prior.