Blair Kerkhoff

Conference title contender Texas stumbles out of Big 12 gate

Texas forward Jonathan Holmes (back) is one of several Longhorns players battling an injury, Rick Barnes said Monday.
Texas forward Jonathan Holmes (back) is one of several Longhorns players battling an injury, Rick Barnes said Monday. The Associated Press

Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes recently wrenched his back putting away pots in his kitchen. It was the least painful thing that’s happened to him the last few days.

The Longhorns are coming off a 0-2 week, getting blitzed at home by Oklahoma last Monday and left behind in the second half at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

The road though the Big 12 expects to be rugged, but Texas appeared to be a program that would protect its home floor, steal a few on the road and be a primary challenger in the league’s quest to supplant Kansas as league champion.

But the Longhorns have been unsettled recently. Guard Isaiah Taylor has returned from a 10-game absence because of a wrist injury but is catching up to game speed. Meanwhile, players who took Taylor’s minutes are readjusting.

Barnes said on Monday that forward Jonathan Holmes and guard Demarcus Holland have been battling nagging injuries. Holmes struggled last week, going two for 19 from the floor. For the season, he’s hitting 17 percent of his threes (six for 36).

“He and I spent a lot of time talking after the game,” Barnes said. “He missed some shots, but I think he’s pressed a little bit.”

Texas needs the scoring from Holmes and Taylor, and Barnes wants to see more points coming from the free-throw line. In three league games, the Horns have averaged 19 attempts. More from the line would mean Texas was forcing the issue inside.

Texas dropped two of its three league games last season but came back for an 11-7 finish, tying for third place in a bounce-back season.

The Longhorns headed into this year with high hopes. They climbed to as high as No. 6 in the polls with solid early victories over Iowa, California and at Connecticut and playing Kentucky tough in a loss.

But things haven’t been right since a home loss to Stanford just before Christmas, and life in the Big 12 isn’t easy. The Longhorns play host to West Virginia on Saturday, beginning a stretch of games where five of the six opponents are ranked. Texas dropped to No. 20 in Monday’s Associated Press poll.

Texas has some company when it comes to mixed signals by Big 12 teams.

Oklahoma looked like the league’s top team when it dominated the Longhorns in Austin. But the Sooners turned around and dropped a home game to Kansas State in overtime on Saturday.

“That’s the league,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “We told our guys we’re going to have 18 hard-fought contests, all of them independent from the other. It’s going to be like that.

“If your team is advanced enough or mature enough, they’ll handle that, but we didn’t handle like we wanted to.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.

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