Back in Kansas City, Texas men hope for some more of that sweet Big 12 Tournament magic
Two weeks after they first arrived in Kansas City, the Midwestern hoops hotbed for the Big 12 Tournament, things have certainly changed for the Longhorns.
The Texas men’s basketball team is now playing for a spot in the Elite Eight, not NCAA Tournament seeding. The questions surrounding interim head coach Rodney Terry focus more on when he’ll get the full-time job instead of if he’ll get the offer from Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte. And the Longhorns are no longer chasing an elusive Sweet 16 spot, which they had last claimed in 2008. Instead, they hope to leave Kansas City with a win over Xavier on Friday and then against either Houston or Miami on Sunday in order to claim the second Final Four berth in school history and the first in 20 years.
“It feels good to be back,” senior forward Brock Cunningham said before the team’s practice Thursday at T-Mobile Center. “You know, we have good memories here and good energy in this gym. Just the familiarity with the area and with the gym, I think this is something that's going to make us more comfortable through this next game.”
More:Golden: His players have spoken, and they want Rodney Terry to be Texas' next head coach
Second-seeded Texas (28-8) certainly looked comfortable two weeks ago while rampaging through the Big 12 Tournament, which included a 20-point win over Kansas in the title game. But Xavier (27-9) and the other two teams competing alongside the Longhorns in the Sweet 16 don’t care about any conference trophies in the do-or-die days of the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a great experience while we're here, so we're excited about being back in Kansas City, but it wasn’t easy,” Terry said. “We’re just excited for this weekend.”
Exciting describes the style of play for Xavier, the No. 3 seed that ranks near the top of most offensive categories in the nation. Senior guard Souley Boum leads the high-powered Musketeers, and Terry knows better than anyone the aggressive style of play that Boum brings to the court. Boum played two seasons at Texas-El Paso under Terry before the current Texas coach left to join Chris Beard’s staff in Austin prior to last season.
The two exchanged hugs and smiles in the hallway at T-Mobile Center before Thursday’s press conference, but Terry said those pleasantries won’t make it past the scorer’s table when the game tips off Friday.
“What a great kid,” Terry said. “I love him like a son, but we’ll be major competitors come Friday night because he wants to win, and I want to win. And he’s all about winning. I can't say enough great things about him as a person.”
The 6-foot-3 Boum scored 14 points with seven rebounds and five assists in Xavier’s 84-73 win over Pittsburgh in the second round, so the Texas players have mined Terry for every nugget of information about the high-scoring guard.
More:The season-long defensive attitude is traveling with Texas in the NCAA Tournament, too
“Just in terms of scouting reports and things like that, he (Terry) knows his tendencies and things he likes to do,” Texas guard Marcus Carr said. “But that's also a couple of years ago, and I'm sure he (Boum) has gotten better as a player.
“He's a great player, a three-level scorer who can also facilitate as well. He has the ball in his hands, and he's able to make plays, so we’re just going to have to execute the scouting report.”
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, (2) Texas vs. (3) Xavier, 8:45 p.m., CBS, 104.9
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas men's basketball is back in KC, now with even higher stakes